Chapters 17, 18, 19, & 20
Translated by Mathew Cornetta
Días Contados is a modern Spanish novel set in Madrid. I read it for the first time in 1992, while traveling in Spain. Its author, Juan Madrid, is famous throughout Spain for his incisive and sensitive journalism which has captured the spirit of change in his country since the death of Franco. Indeed Spain is a country of great change, especially in the changes that have taken place since "la movida" in the late Seventies up through the mid Eighties. Días Contados is particularly graphic in capturing a glimpse of life in Madrid at the end of "la movida."
Here is our seventh installment.
—Matthew Cornetta, Translator.
Antonio heard the sound of approaching footsteps and he drew back the window curtain. He tried to make out if it was Emma coming through the garden, however, the lampposts did not throw enough light. He closed the curtain and sat down on the sofa.
When they were living together, Emma had been taking a course in acting. It was being taught by some famous American stage director who must have been from Jewish or Arab extraction, because his last name was impossible to pronounce... This director was in the habit of driving Emma home after class and he would take her right to the doorstep, where they would say good bye with kisses. It wasn’t long before they were lovers.
Antonio figured the two of them were living together and so it surprised him to hear the crunching of only one pair of shoes passing through the gravel.
....It was one of those attached houses often seen in the suburban developments surrounding Madrid. It was not too far off the Valencia highway. They bought it on money put up by Emma’s mother... The development was surrounded by clean cropped, earthy hillocks—dotted with cactus plants and cypresses. The whole thing looked like a fabricated oasis... As soon as the houses came on the market, Emma bent herself on having a unit for herself; and that’s when she begged her mother for a loan. Antonio remembered sitting in the office of the real estate agent....
.....There was a model of the whole project on a large table. He noticed little figurines that appeared to portray young couples walking hand in hand with their children... Everybody happily walked along the tree lined promenades and down to an intensely blue—almost surreal—communal pool... The agent jabbered on about how the architects were even thinking about installing a revolutionary, subterranean corridor system, linking each garage with the highway and thus preserving the harmony of this most idyllic garden setting which they were trying to create...
Wasn’t that everybody’s dream anyway: a little slab of nature all just minutes away from the big city...
Just like old times, Antonio began to guess how long it would take her to traverse the minuscule parcel of property and put the key in the door... He had gone almost a whole year without setting foot in that house... Thus....he was sure that his presence there, now, would constitute a surprise. ...Emma was not at all excited or surprised. She silently approached and kissed him curtly on the lips. "Have you eaten supper?" She asked. "No...no, I’m not really hungry. I just got up a little while ago—can I fix myself a drink?" "Of course..."
He made a quick cocktail and returned to the sofa. He offered no words; instead he drifted miles away as he noticed a new painting on one of the walls...
Emma was endowed with hips—full and round. This was what most attracted Antonio when he first met her in college. Whatever she might have been wearing, Antonio would nonetheless always fix his eyes on the panty line beneath. Now, he no longer indulged such curiosities.
"I’m glad you’ve come to visit, but you could’ve given me a warning you know... I could have prepared a nice supper...." As Antonio was still off in another world, she continued—"This is why you missed your appointment with Belén—sleeping??"
"Yeah...yeah, I overslept. My brother doesn’t give a shit about that interview anyway... He wants Sepúlveda. Didn’t you say that tomorrow he’d be at the Hanoi?"
"Yes, tomorrow.. Uff... I’m exhausted. Our instructor expects us to jump around the whole day performing miracles. Sometimes I think he’s really prepping us to work in the circus, not the theater.." "It’s good exercise," replied Antonio. "Anyhow, I figure that guy knows what he’s doing—no?... And you look good—I’m serious—you’re very pretty." "I try to watch myself... Will you excuse me? I’m going to get out of these clothes... Oh, it’s so good to be in my house! You don’t know how it sets me at ease to be home—really, it totally relaxes me. Here you can breathe real air—it’s pure.... Ugh! Madrid is impossible..." "I still have a key... I hope it didn’t bother you that I just let myself in—are you sure you don’t want a drink?"
"No... I don’t drink anymore. The boss—I mean our instructor—has forbidden it. Doing theater requires some sacrifices, you know? ...He’s always saying that and he tells us that anybody who wishes to be an actor—a real actor that is—must sacrifice themselves to strict discipline—suffering even..." "I agree...yeah, you must make sacrifices.... You bet... You stick with your regimen. Then, of course—" "It’s a great opportunity to be studying under him. You know, he’s the most sought after stage director in the world... He has regularly scheduled courses in London, Milan, Tel Aviv... In short, the whole world adores him! He is divine although he’s a little bit of a hard ass... Well then, I think I’m going straight to bed. I’m sooo tired. Oh....I really don’t mind you dropping in whenever you want, but try to call first. You’ve been drifting around quite a long time now, without sending any signals about where your life is going... We’re not enemies, Antonio. Well, that’s where I stand, anyway..."
Emma was not so tired as she let on, or at least, she did not appear so—her cheeks were full and crimson while her eyes sparked as if they were suffused with a rare light. Antonio had never known her eyes to do that.
....She sang as she got undressed in the bedroom. Dying of curiosity, Antonio inched toward the door—he was determined to verify if she were wearing panties or not. At the last moment, however, he backed away, deciding it wouldn’t be a good idea to barge in on Emma... But, then again, he definitely felt a growing magnetic tension—when he reached for his fly, he found that he had an erection... Perhaps she was wearing one of those skimpy tangas which only scarcely revealed themselves under the clothes...and that director too—he probably liked women who didn’t wear panties... Perhaps it was better not to think about it...
Antonio finished his drink and began to prepare another. His erection gradually descended. Emma’s singing continued. She was apparently very happy and enjoying the luxury of prolonging the normal time it would take to change clothes.
Antonio walked back over to the bedroom door— "I came to get the Coplans book...do...Can you hear me?" Emma stopped singing. She opened the door and drew close to her ex-husband. As she fastened her bathrobe she asked: "What are you saying?" "The Coplans. I came to get it...well....I mean if you’ll let me have it..." "That book is mine. You gave it to me as a gift." "Couldn’t you just please lend it to me?" "Have you finished the book for your brother?" "I just need the interview with Sepúlveda." "Hey, I think Belén is angry with us because you stood her up." "Ahhhh! That one always wants to be in the spotlight, even if it’s in my brother’s shittin’ little guide of la movida." "I see..." yawned Emma—"Well, would you like to stay and watch a little TV? I think I’m going to bed." Antonio grabbed his woman by the arm— "Remember Coplans!? Those photos of prostitutes, drunks, down and outers.... If I can get some more pictures of my new neighbors....it would be...unreal! They’d call me another Coplans. I just need one big photograph—a clincher."
"New neighbors?" "The ones in the rat trap apartment next door. There a bunch of junkies that I’m taking pictures of. Emma...? I’ve been looking for a situation like this for a long time." "First you should finish your brother’s book." "Yeah, yeah...I know... I’m no fool... But it’s just that I’ll never get another opportunity like this one, Emma. Coplans documented life—the real life of a city. He won himself a Pulitzer, Emma. God! His photos were fantastic! Whatta ya think would happen if I got the National Medal for Photography, eh?? What would happen?" "Well, why don’t we meet for dinner this Saturday and you can tell me all about it"— she yawned—"Separated, yet civilized, right? We are friends, aren’t we?" "Let me have the Coplans and I’ll have dinner with you." "We can still be friends, Antonio..." "So you’re not going out with that director?" "I am. But...this weekend he has other commitments—he’s going to spend some time with his family..."
Vanesa rubbed lotion on her hands as she watched the television in the Uruguay Bar on la calle San Bernardo. Lisardo dozed, slouching over the table, his head resting on a pile of comic books. Charo sat down by Vanesa’s side—
"Ya know what I’d like to be," Vanesa started—"one of those brassy business types with a briefcase and awesome designer clothes... A woman who couldn’t care less about guys—and I’d live alone in a fuckin’ awesome apartment. I’d have a sweet car and on weekends I’d make trips to the country or the beach... And I’d only stay in five star hotels... How I’d love that! Ya know, there are women who—"
Vanesa looked over to the television set where ridiculous characters were bouncing about and laughing—it was some kind of comedy... All the while she unconsciously rubbed her hands as if there were forced to work a perpetually self generating lotion into her skin. Charo kept her eyes fixed on the television as she reached for some lotion and rubbed it under the waistline of her miniskirt... Vanesa suddenly continued her train of thought— "—They work out at gyms and take care of themselves the way they want to. And all the guys drool when they see them. But they? They don’t give ‘em the time of day... It’s incredible how much they can take guys for a ride... Hey!" —She shook Charo’s arm in order to get her attention—"Do you really believe this is the lotion the stars use?"
Charo pointed to the TV screen— "Eh! Look! The object of the show is not to laugh. Those guys over there tell jokes and the other ones try not to laugh. If you laugh, you lose. It’s marvi, eh Vanesa?"
"....You see, Charo, what I get aren’t really called dreams. You already know how I sort of get premonitions—that’s what they’re called, I think... When you die, you don’t really die, you sort of re-incarnate. It’s a wheel or something like that. Okay, okay—the body itself turns to dust—right?... But the spirit, or... the soul never dies. Instead it re-incarnates in some other body that’s about to be born... I’ve already told you a thousand times about how I was once a princess—you know—in the times of knights and swords and all that stuff... I mean, it’s like I’m always having that same dream... The castle in flames and me in the window shouting out to the knights fighting below... This must be one of my reincarnations... So then, maybe I’ll have a future reincarnation as a doctor or a secretary—an executive secretary, that is... Have you seen them? Imagine being able to dress like those bitches?? And pulling in all that money... having a car too and a perfect apartment with expensive furniture and the president of the company falling in love with me, and me, playing hard to get... All these guys asking me out to dinner every weekend—flying to the Caribbean... Just like in the magazines, eh Charo?! Wouldn’t it be fun to reincarnate into a girl like that?? Hey! This lotion is shit! Look, it didn’t do anything for the zits on my shoulders. What a rip off!!"
"That’s what you think, Vanesa, but you don’t even know how much better you look." "Yeah?" "That’s what I’m saying, honey... This is a special hydrating cream with..." Charo turned the bottle around in order to get a glimpse of the label—"with ‘revitalizing collagen’ and it’s only available in pharmacies, eh... So you must be kidding!" "Ahhh! With what we’re gonna make at the party, plus a few other tricks here and there, we’ll easily have enough to drop by Morocco, eh!" She shook Charo—"You promised we’d go to Morocco, right?... You promised!... Ahhh! I already know you’re gonna end up jerking around with Alfredo, so I might as well forget about Morocco Yeah, I know it. Alfredo’s gonna say what’s what and you’ll back down like always... I can see it already..."
"C’mon, stop annoying me with that, Vanesa. You know I’m not going to be that way." Vanesa turned and silently stared at Charo. "Besides, Alfredo’s through with me and now I’m with Antonio. Well, we’re still not that sure, but..." "I don’t know what you’re talking about, honey. Don’t forget, Alfredo’s still you’re husband." "I’m not an idiot... Alfredo doesn’t love me anymore." "C’mon Charo. Again you’re hallucinating over nothing." "What am I supposed to think then, eh...? They’ve given him a grade three. He’s on day release and still he hasn’t come to see me—he hasn’t even written a letter." "Well, he did tell Ibraín that he wants to fuck you." "That’s what he said before he got the grade three... Look Vanesa, don’t play games. Do you see me sucking my thumb or something?? Alfredo’s through with me and that’s that." "And now you’re trying to hook up with Antonio? With that one??!" Charo meekly shrugged and Vanesa added: "Anyhow, after this fuckin’ party we’re goin’ down to Morocco with all the cash, okay? Whatta you think—just cause I have an itch to—"
"Yes, yes—Morocco—I want to go too." "Maybe at the party we’ll hook up with some guy—ya know, one of those bigwigs—and he’ll fall for us, eh honey!" Vanesa nudged Charo with her elbow. Charo just stared at the television and laughed along with the show... Lisardo suddenly emerged, lifting his head and yawning. He motioned to the pile of comic books which lay on the table. "Eh, honey, have you seen these yet? The best ones are ‘Captain Thunder’ and Space Monsters. They’re awesome! Don’t ya think—eh?... You like ‘em? ...I got ‘em of some guy, right here in the Plaza—five for 200 pesetas—a steal, eh?" Charo grabbed the magazines and began to leaf through them. As a rule she always liked comics that had lots of colors. But the only one of Lisardo’s with colors was Space Monsters. "What about puzzles?" asked Vanesa, wiping a spot of lotion from her chin—"crosswords, mazes—that kinda stuff... Didn’t you bring any?" "They didn’t have any—besides, you don’t have a clue with crosswords, so why would you want ‘em, eh...eh?" "I’m pretty good with crosswords. The thing is...sometimes they’re—well, they get boring. But, I guess I still like them." Lisardo reached into his pocket and pulled out a cabbage of one and five thousand peseta bills—"You see this, Charo? The other night the two of you made a fortune on that guy with the boutique. Now listen...it’s my treat—anything you want ‘cause I got plenty of money. C’mon, let’s eat lobster tails until we go blind!" "Eh!" screeched Vanesa, "Tell Charo how you found that pile!" "Ooooh! This one was a real jerk-off. I saw him going up la calle Ruiz, right?... So I say to myself, ‘this one’s loaded’"—Lisardo touched his nose—"It’s the nose girls—I can smell money..." "But... in the neighborhood?" Charo ventured, expressing a tinge of apprehension—"Alfredo says you should never roll anybody in your own neighborhood because the cops—"
"Ahhh! Why don’t you tell Alfredito to come and tickle my nuts! Do me a favor, honey—don’t try and tell me about my business, okay?" Vanesa rubbed her palms together in delight— "Yooo—hooo, you’re the balls, man!" "Fine." Warned Charo "Go right on scoring all over the neighborhood. You’ll see..." Then she added—"Sometimes, Lisardo... well, you’re weird man—really... So the guy was loaded, huh?" "Up to his eyes! You shoulda seen how I caught him goin’ up Ruiz, right? So I settle in behind him—pim...pam, pim...pam, edging in right behind him. And I’m tellin’ myself: ‘this one’s on his way to the bank, or maybe to pay off some bill’—whatever... I already told you, honey, how I got the nose for money... Anyway, I’m walking behind, trying to guess which way little ‘Manuel’ will go next, left? right?...then suddenly..." "What?" exclaimed Vanesa. How much did you get off him, eh? C’mon man, tell me!"
"Lisardo reached into his pocket again and pulled out the bills, flipping through them and counting. Vanesa inched to the edge of her chair in order to get a better look." "Hmmm...there’s about....I don’t know..." Lisardo shrugged—"Let’s see...I bought some smack—oh—and I ate a king’s breakfast....That’d make it about..." He crinkled his lips and sneeringly protested—"Eh, waiter! Where the hell are the lobster tails!" "Let’s go to a real seafood place," interjected Vanesa, "this place sucks."
Charo was carefully observing the illustrations in one of the comic books. She was smiling. Sometimes, though not often, she would read the titles. She liked how the words were so tiny and neat. Back in her hometown she used to trade comics with her friends—comics like JASMINE and WHITEFLOWER all illustrated in beautiful colors... But for now she believed she preferred the colors in Space Monsters...
At a corner on la calle de Palma there was a dilapidated old building covered with posters and advertisements. One of them depicted a newborn infant, floating lifeless in some sort of viscous liquid and clutching a dollar bill in its dead fist. It was a ruddy brown poster and this especially off set the large block-white letters which promoted a rock concert. "Awesome!!" Lisardo shouted. "Hey kids! Did you catch this?... ‘The Savages From Under The Bridge’ and ‘Ring Ring....Talk To Me’. Ain’t that cool! kickin’ maaan—kickin’!" He slapped the poster with enthusiastic violence—a ‘high five’ of righteous rage. At that precise moment, a group of schoolboys passed—evidently on their way home from the nearby Lope de Vega Institute. They slowed and stared at Lisardo. One of them kept flicking his nose, attempting to stanch a relentless trickle of blood... Vanesa fixed her eyes on the newborn that held the dollar bill. Then Lisardo suddenly seized her arm, breaking her concentration—
"I can’t fuckin’ believe it’s them—‘Ring Ring...Talk To Me’ is the hottest heavy metal band around. And I know Alberto too!... Sure...Alberto, the bass player. I don’t remember his last name though..." Vanesa heard nothing, as she continued staring at the poster, captivated in contemplation... "...Wait a minute... Yeah, his full name’s Juan Alberto Arteche. He’s real tall with big blond hair—a lady killer on the rock circuit... You know this guy was in one a my classes in architecture school? Yeah... I think it was him. His father was a big... some kind a politician anyway... He was awesome at drawing—maybe the best and he was a big time stud, even then... We used to hang all the time. I’m tellin’ you we were tight. He had a woman too—I think her name was... it was Juanita I think. Juanita Martínez..."
"Looks like there’s some kind of festival tonight." Charo remarked after she read the fine print on the poster. Maybe there’ll be merry-go-rounds and darts and all that stuff. I’m gonna ask Antonio if he wants to go." Charo gazed at the poster almost dreamily. Vanesa drew closer... Picking her nose and taking one last look, she said:
"Ring Ring....Talk To Me???" Then she shrugged and turned away. "Well, they’re awesome," insisted Lisardo. "The festival is at.... No, look, I think it’s in an auditorium." Charo explained—"They constructed one in Casa de Campo..." She pointed to the poster, adding— "It starts at midnight."
Along came Rosa in a pair of snug, leopard skin leggings. When she strutted her lags hacked forward jerkily as if she were trying to kick her way through a series of invisible obstacles. The tight fabric of the spandex smoothed her belly and thighs— yet the dark leopard markings and the dirty shirt gave her the appearance of having been spat on repeatedly.
"Where you off to?" She demanded. The question was not directed at anybody in particular... Instead she just stood there—tough like—hands on hips and casting a look which fell like a net over the whole lot of them... Lisardo spoke: "We’re boppin’ over to Noviciado to stuff our faces with shrimp and lobster—you coming?" Rosa shook her head... "Is everything set for the party? Did you get the coke yet?" Vanesa rubbed her belly—"I got the cash right here for our little deal with Ibraín." "So you don’t have it yet... No...you don’t have a goddamned thing! That’s what you’re telling me, right?"
"We got the money," interrupted Charo—"Vanesa and me tripped over thirty talegos... That’s some cash—Ibraín knows all about it. Don’t worry, Rosa, trust us." "Thirty talegos? Then give it to me. I’ll keep it safe for you." She shot a look at Lisardo... "Anyhow, I can get a better deal from Ibraín—and then we can split up the difference that I save for you." "Listen honey," replied Charo sarcastically, "You don’t have to be so considerate... Just please explain why the hell you have to hold the money? Eh! Please, would you run that plan by me one more time... C’mon Rosa, you have no idea what we went through to get this money—Vanesa had to suck off some weirdo." "Why...? I’ll tell you why: first, I don’t trust the two of you as far as I can throw you and second, you both don’t know a fuckin’ thing about Ibraín... I’m the one who deals with him—besides—I’ll be saving you some money—okay! Now stop fuckin’ with me and hand over the goddamned money!" "Shove it up your ass, bitch!" shouted Vanesa. "The money’s ours. Whatta you think? We give you the cash and you cut the coke, right? Speak up! Tell us all about how you’re gonna fuck us over." Rosa surged forward and pounced on Vanesa. She throttled her neck—slapped her—kicked her—slammed her against the wall. She pinned Vanesa against the building and began to pinch her cheeks with one hand—the other, she held in front of Vanesa’s eyes—brandishing it there like a gnarled hook—like she wanted to thrust it right through her brain.
Vanesa froze... "So, you don’t trust me? You pig! I never cut what doesn’t belong to me." "Let her go! Let her go!" shouted Charo—"I’m telling you, Rosa, you better let her go." Charo rushed forward and began jostling Rosa, who merely freed one hand and swatted Charo to the ground like it was nothing. From her sprawled position on the sidewalk, Charo looked up at Rosa with fear and amazement in her eyes. Vanesa reached into her panties and pulled out the roll of cash— "Take it, take it already! You go talk to Ibraín then..." Lisardo yawned, seemingly out of boredom...
Sepúlveda sat on a high wooden stool, drinking a bubbling glass of Perrier. He had been saying how, recently, water was all he was drinking—well, water and, on some occasions, champagne too. Antonio switched on the tape recorder and pushed it closer. He wanted to capture the director’s every word.
A silence lowered over the entire group of onlookers. "...It’s just that sort of title I find....I don’t know—a little constricting. I don’t want to be regarded as ‘Madrid’s Moviemaker’ and kept behind glass like some exotic animal in the zoo. You follow me? Anyway, lately I’ve been thinking about making a move—going someplace where the atmosphere isn’t so stagnant. Yes...I need a breath of fresh air or something because I feel as if I’m drowning. Perhaps I’ll give Los Angeles a try..."
"What’s the condition of la movida, José?" Asked a woman who was accompanied by a television cameraman. "Movida??...Today?... I thought we already covered this ground, little girl... Let’s see... La movida was something ‘we’ created—a spirit, an ideal. For a brief moment, at its conception, it was pure. But then soon after, a whole crowd of pseudo artists and hicks swarmed in from the provinces and the whole thing went under. Then the functionaries and bureaucrats came in and decided to foment the myth of ‘la movida’ and of fiestas—because this, they believed, would be good for tourism... But that’s another story... Like I said before, the real movida only lasted for a short while." "But... what are we seeing right now?"
"This is all a hoax—a facade propped up by half illiterate hicks who think they’re making history. What a disaster! Oh! And by the way, let’s not forget that the whole country is in an economic crisis." "A crescendo of laughs followed the theatrically delivered opinions of José Sepúlveda." "So then you were the great mastermind who created ‘la movida’, Sepúlveda?" "Well... I don’t want to take all the credit, honey. But let’s say that I deserve all the credit... Anyhow, it started because the whole of Spain was bored—we were in a terrible rut. All anybody talked about was political science and economic philosophy. And if my memory serves me correctly, it was against the law to make money—wasn’t it? Especially in the years immediately following Franco’s death. What a dull, gray, seedy time! Whatever... The truth of it is, Spain is a seedy country—it was just more seedy in those years! I’d have to say that everybody was getting fed up with all the politics..."
"Señor Sepúlveda?... Some have described you as the founder of la movida. Still, there are many others who disagree. But one thing is certain, everybody sees you as a central figure—a keystone—who held it together and infused the form with content—with substance. Nevertheless... you weren’t alone. What about others like the designer, García Pix. What about bands like Ahí Van Los Míos, Zorras, Casting Oblicuo, and who knows how many more?? All those big actors and actresses...and singers too, like Betti Cas... What roles did all of them play?..."
"My dear, dear, beautiful people. Let me help you get yourselves straight. La movida, if anything, was a response—an attempt at solutions. It was a reaction which stated: ‘we’re tired of the backwardness—we’re tired of the stagnation...’ It even said: ‘we’re tired of codoroys and tabards and high collared shirts.’ The seeds of the reaction were there for years but they didn’t really germinate until the death of Franco. That’s when the stagnation finally ended—that’s when everything came together. Of course, at the time we didn’t know all this, but in hindsight we could see it rather clearly..." "According to you, when did la movida begin and when did it end?" "Well, my dear girl. I don’t know anymore if there ever really was a movida. However, if we’re going to say that there was, then I would put it between 1980 and 1985—with its culmination somewhere in ’82 or ’83... Ahhh! What a happy chaos those years represented!" "A throwback to May of ’68?"
"No...no, nothing of the kind. The whole movement of 1968 was steeped in politics. In la movida there was a negation of politics. Now this is the last time I’m going to say it!!: Both on the surface and in its deepest fibers, la movida was a reaction against all forms of ‘politics.’ Okay, Maru...?" "Not Maru, señor Sepúlveda—it’s Marga, Marga Alonso." "Ay... I beg your pardon, Marga, honey. Go on..." She was about to say something when Sepúlveda sat forward and added: "And there’s something very important which I believe has been left unsaid... I’m referring to don Enrique Tierno—the old professor. He was an important man at City Hall. However, few mention his name or truly appreciate the groundbreaking work he did to foster the playful atmosphere and spirit of beauty and change which was la movida..." A smartly dressed young man with close cropped blond hair and a gold Rolex twinkling on his left wrist, interjected:
"Pardon me, José, but in all fairness we also shouldn’t forget about the whole politics of subsidization. The Provincial, Municipal, and even National Governments were constantly underwriting multitudes of: shows, fairs, festivals, happenings, magazines, theater.... Well, I could go on and still not touch the half of it..."
Sepúlveda turned his chubby, festive face toward the television camera. He smiled coyly and offered: "Good... then I can’t wait for the Government to underwrite my next film." Both Marga Alonso and the cameraman broke into a contagious laughter which quickly spread throughout the entire audience. As it died down, Marga pursued the issue— "So do you agree with your friend over here?" "Oh!....oh sure... Of course!! It’s undeniable—every Argentinian in the country had a good job!" There was more laughter which drew more onlookers who began to congregate around the barrier of chairs and benches which the television crew had set up. ...Sepúlveda was virtually surrounded...the center of attention... The audience seemed to be composed of all young people—young, smart, wealthy men and women—dressed smartly too—clean and smart—everybody in designer clothes. And they accorded not the slightest respect to the nuts and bolts of the proceedings, thus requiring the sound technician to continually demand more quiet...
Sepúlveda added: "No...not really, I was just joking about the Argentinians." "So José... Do you think that la movida is over and done?" "But, C’mon already!!" Sepúlveda spread his arms and looked toward the ceiling... "La movida was a hundred of us—if that many... And wherever we went, so went la movida—from bar to restaurant to tavern to the next bar... And we were the ones who could make or break a place. Later on, came the others—the throng, no?" Sepúlveda drank some of his Perrier and sat back. Antonio leaned forward and asked: "May I shoot some photos of you, José?" "Of course, of course—like always... Any more questions?" Marga, the television interviewer, shot Antonio a bitter look of disgust. But Antonio just ignored her as he clic, clic, clicked various shots of the celebrated director. "What is your current project," she asked Sepúlveda—"Is it a big secret or can you talk about it?" "It’s a secret." "Ahhh.... can’t you just give us a little morsel," she pursued.
In the corner of his eye, Antonio suddenly thought he saw Emma at the back of the room. Yes—it was Emma and she seemed to be caught up in an animated discussion with a mysterious, broad shouldered man. There heads were awfully close and she looked like she was enjoying herself way too much. More than three times she placed her hand on his shoulder while throwing her head back in laughter. To Antonio, it all appeared affected, but as he was far away, he could not make out a thing they were saying.
Antonio noticed too, how more and more young people were pouring into this bar where Sepúlveda was holding court. Were they coming to see the director? Perhaps not. Antonio knew the neighborhood and he knew that this bar was on one of the liveliest streets in that neighborhood—in fact, one of the liveliest streets in the whole city. There were many clubs and discotechs on la calle Hortaleza—this place itself would turn into a discotech after 8:00 pm. It was all so simple—bar by afternoon, discotech at night. And the beautiful young people hustled on...with or without Sepúlveda... At least the management of the place had tipped its hat by agreeing to keep the music off during the press conference. Still, there was much noise; the place was packed and it was sometimes difficult to hear above the garbled din of diffuse conversations.
Suddenly a large group of young people blocked Antonio’s sight line to Emma... Sepúlveda continued to savor the sound of his own voice. "...Well, right now, the film I’m making is pretty hard core—real gritty and seedy—perhaps bordering on porno/hard core—rated ‘X’ or whatever they call it... So...let’s see. There is this woman and she’s an important executive and she—are you following me?" Various members of the eager press nodded there heads in assent, while others, dying of anticipation, shouted for Sepúlveda to continue... Indeed, the director knew how to play an audience. He went on: "So she’s an important woman—one who commands, makes decisions—perhaps the director of a corporation... Do you all get the picture?... Well, this woman is finishing work one day, right?... when suddenly she takes off her panties...ahhh...and what panties!...fine, delicate, exquisite panties because this is a woman of exquisite tastes... Yet...then why must she always desire to strip off her panties and ride the subway home?? And—pay strict attention now—she makes sure she gets on the subway at the height of rush hour...understand?? At those hours when there are the greatest number of people...Watchers... Are you following me?... Here she is, a top flight executive: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and she is driven by the desire to discard her panties and ride the subway. Yes... the sweat filled air of the workaday subway, where she lets the grubby laborers brush against her—where she rubs against the perverted, homely office porters and the seedy Moroccans... You see where I’m going with this? It’s a sort of ‘Belle de Jour’ Spanish style. Every time she rides the subway, it’s as if she’s consenting to be violated—to be raped... She is squeezed and felt and rubbed and groped...and she comes!!"
At a nearby table, an older, somewhat wrinkled woman had been listening in. She followed Sepúlveda’s every rhythm and cadence and when the scene on the subway reached its climax, she squealed in ecstasy— "Ooooh..." she exclaimed. "There’s nothing so arousing as picturing someome feeling me up on the subway. That gets me sooo hot!" Marga Alonso nervously chuckled... Sepúlveda proceeded, not a bit unruffled by this enthusiastic interruption—
"Ahem...if you please... I still haven’t finished. So, this woman lives in a dazzling chalet in one of those luxurious suburban developments. Her husband—we’ll make him some sort of government official—straitlaced, handsome, respected... And they have two precious children. In fact, the whole home life in this chalet is enchanted—I mean a regular fairy tale. The husband and wife love each other and the children especially adore their mother. Ahhh.... so she is living a triple life. At work she is cold and ruthlessly efficient, in her home she is a model mother, firm, yet liberal and understanding. Her children receive the best of guidance and education, for she is a modern, compassionate, lov—well, let’s just say that she is what most mothers can only dream of being. Now, here we have a woman such as this, who every day leaves work with thought of being a naughty little whore on the subway. And there she goes...to the subway, where she wants to be pawed and fondled..." "Yet... On one of these afternoons she is noticed by a young man, who observes her at length and figures out what she’s doing. He sees her come and everything... Well, this guy—our protagonist, no? Well, he begins to ride the subway every afternoon, waiting for her. And, little by little, he gets closer to her. He is curious, but patient, and it is a slow suspenseful process which leads up to the day when finally, he strikes up a conversation with her. Now, it’s not that he’s in love with her—no, no—nothing like that... Instead, she excites him because she’s everything he’s always fantasized: a rich lady, beautiful, horny and rich—the dream come true for a poor boy..."
Sepúlveda took a long swig from his bottle of Perrier. He seemed reflective, dramatic even, as he carefully utilized this pause in order to scan the public through his half closed eyes. He chuckled—a lone laugh piercing the silent space. Nobody dared say a word. In fact, the only other sound was the faint, hiss of panty hose, as some woman uncrossed her legs...
"... And that’s because this guy is pretty much wrung out—you follow? He’s a former worker—now on unemployment... He’s lazy and because of all his free time he’s gotten a little into drugs. He has a girlfriend from his neighborhood and she is similar to him. They are both dull, used up people. Together they stagnate. But now on the subway, this guy feels new energy. He moves closer and closer and soon he is getting his hand in like all the rest. Yet, he’s not like all the rest... No, he starts to really like it. He becomes obsessed and begins to follow our heroine. He spies on her. He tries to make chance encounters with her, in and around her offices... We could say that he ends up falling in love with her. Granted...it’s a sort of dirty, perverted, animal love—but it’s love all the same, no?... Anyhow, he begins to hook up with her, every afternoon on the subway. THERE! The two of them play out their perverse love...THERE! In a packed subway car... THERE! They fondle and grope each other, heightening the pleasure by pretending they don’t know each other—convincing themselves they’re strangers..."
"But of course this can’t last because the boy begins to want more. He starts talking to her, asking her out on evening dates. He demands that she recognize him and that the two of them should recognize each other and get to know each other. Ahhh...that’s typical, isn’t it?... It seems like nobody can just screw for the sake of screwing. What a beautiful thing it is too... No, no... We humans always want to be recognized—we want to be known, appreciated, and entangled in the daily details of ‘relationships.’ Isn’t that the truth? We desire to hear all the childish reassurances of: ‘I like you’ or ‘I love you’ and all the other silly sweet nothings... Well anyway, this guy starts to become a real nuisance—he calls her at home, at work, and—as I mentioned—he frequently goes to her office in person. In other words, boys and girls, he begins to encroach on our heroine’s other two lives—her ‘normal’ lives so to speak. This is something she refuses to tolerate."
"Ahhh....and it’s just this presumption of the boy’s which will lead to his downfall... Whereas he believes that they are carrying on a typical adulterous affair, she knows that it’s different. And that’s why she will plan a secret meeting with him in the forest preserve...where...she will kill him....kill him without even knowing his name!" There followed a brief applause, to which Sepúlveda smiled complacently. Presently he continued: "And on the very next day she will go back to her old routine—on her way from work to her sweet home, she will board the subway and AGAIN give herself up to being fondled and groped—AGAIN not wearing any underwear—AGAIN as if nothing had passed or happened or even changed... And AGAIN, another boy will fall under her aura, first noticing her and then setting the tumblers to click out their repetitive sequence... Understand? She is the constant and each boy—each new victim—is merely a version or variation..." "Oh!... I love it! It’s fantastic!" exclaimed the woman with the wrinkles—"and who’s going to play the woman? Have you thought about anyone, José? Eh...have you thought about Victoria?"
There was a nervous anxiety aback of her words and Antonio recalled that she, herself, was an aspiring actress. He tried to remember where he had seen her—where he had met her—but he could not... "Victoria...? Yes, that could work—why not?" replied Sepúlveda. "Yes, yes, I love her work. She would be perfect, wouldn’t she?"
One of those in Sepúlveda’s entourage—a character with a trimmed, compact beard—suddenly interrupted with a series of comments: "Well, I just love it. It couldn’t be more...I want to say...more graphic, José. The story is simply...I don’t know—I’d have to say, sublime. It perfectly addresses the anguish of contemporary society—how large cities distort the human personality—the necessity of sex as a sort of palliative—maybe even a salvation... It’s...well, I’m at a loss for words. In truth, I think it’s absolutely marvelous... Tell me, have you a title for this film yet?" "Title?... Of course we have a title! The first thing I always do is come up with a title. Then the rest just follows." "This is all an exclusive, eh!" somebody informed. "Oooh, I think I’m getting goose bumps!" added another. "So... What’s it called, José?"
In that instant, the crowd of onlookers began to thin... Antonio surveyed the room and saw that Emma was no longer in her place near the back. He suddenly felt his chest go hollow. In some peculiar new way, he missed her... Realizing this, he began to feel a vague fatigue throughout his body. He felt battered; he needed sleep—somehow too—he felt that he was making a fool of himself .
"No, no....sweetheart, no... I’m sorry but I am not at liberty to grant exclusives. Everything I just told you must be kept under wraps. It’s my next film and I don’t want it bouncing off the lips of every Pepito Pérez... No. For now, this film is mine and only mine. But don’t worry. When I’m ready, I’ll call on the press and you’ll find out all about it...Understand?" "Just consider yourself privileged to have even heard about his next film..." added another woman—"Uh—what did you say your name was, Miss?" Antonio recognized this woman as Sepúlveda’s press secretary. She was olive skinned and petite and she wore an oversized pair of dark glasses. "My name’s Marga—Marga Alonso." "Okay then, Marga, stick to what I’ve told you. And remember, if you go on the air with any of this—listen carefully now—then you will never, ever get another opportunity to interview José Sepúlveda... Understood? You must bear in mind that he likes to go on and on, telling things to his friends... But your’e not free to take advantage of that. I think I’ve made myself clear, right?" "I was just asking. I had no intention of—"
The wrinkled woman suddenly interrupted. Standing full and tall on her stool and directing her comments to Sepúlveda, she said: "Hey, couldn’t you do a scene in a cinema? In some theater? What I’m saying is you could get the woman watching a movie—there she is, in one of the seats and there’s a guy touching a woman—‘groping’—as you would say, and nobody else can see—only your heroine. I think it could work. Here...I don’t think I’m making myself clear. Let’s say that our heroine—or Victoria, rather—goes to the cinema with her husband, right?... Or better, with her kids. Yes, yes, it’d work better with the kids. Then, we see this guy sitting near to her and he’s dipping his hand in on another woman and all our heroine can do is grow more excited—ooooh! She’s like a savage bitch in heat! Can’t you see it?? Just by watching the other girl being fondled and groped, she grows uncontrollably aroused. And soon she comes right there—right THERE, while her kids are watching some cartoon. Oh! It would be fantastic, awesome even! Don’t you think, Sepúlveda?"
"Not bad....not bad...." Sepúlveda sat back and rested his elbow on the table top. He contemplated the laughter of a nearby group of students and then he repeated with more enthusiasm: "No, not bad at all." "And you’ll have to find the right actress for this part," continued the woman. "Do you have my address and telephone?... No, better yet, I’ll call you." "...What’s the name of the film, anyway?" persisted Marga. "Just out of curiosity. I’m not going to tell anyone." "The film?" laughed Sepúlveda, his cheeks rosy, his teeth glaring white.. "’Subway’. It’s called ‘Subway’, naturally... Could it possibly be called anything else?"
Emma waited under the lamp light of the doorway. As he approached, she waved and when he drew near, she took his arm warmly. "Surprised?" "Yes...I didn’t expect to see you here." "A whole group of us came out after acting class. Anyway, how’d it go? Did you find it enlightening?" "You know how Sepúlveda is: ‘I, I, I and I’..." "I have a friend in my class who’s getting a small part in his next film. She’s going to play a telephone operator—nothing really—less than a minute on the screen and guess what? Just because it’s one of HIS films, she’s been instantly offered parts in three or four other movies. ‘Sepúlveda isn’t a name at all. It’s a magical key..... So, are you going to invite me to dinner or what?"
They crossed the street and headed in the direction of the Pub Santa Bárbara, a popular place on la calle Fernando VI. Antonio suddenly stopped— "Emma? How come you didn’t say anything? I didn’t know you were going to be at the Sepúlveda thing." "Fine... I thought it was the custom for people to go out to dinner on Fridays. Oh...never mind, I could be wrong." "I was supposed to take some pictures at a rock concert they’re holding in Casa de Campo. I don’t remember who’s playing... But anyway, I wanted to leave my good camera at home..." "Fine, fine...there’s no problem...I have no problem with that." "Did you come alone?" "Very alone." "And your friends from class?"
"They’re all paired off, sweetheart. It looks like there might be an epidemic or something. They look at single women, like me, with distrust. They think we’re going to break up their little honeymoon." Antonio opened the door and they entered the pub. Some tables were occupied but the place was mostly empty as it was still early. Pub Santa Bárbara catered to an after midnight crowd. After briefly greeting a number of acquaintances, Antonio and Emma sat down at a table. Toni, the waiter well known for his brown belt in Karate, approached them, exclaiming: "Hey! Antonio! It’s been ages since we’ve seen either hide or hair of you!" "He’s been working," Emma answered for him. "He just did an interview with Sepúlveda over at the Hanoi—nothing less than ‘Sepúlveda the Great’. See how my husband has bounced back on the road to journalistic fame?..." "Ex-husband," Antonio interjected. "Ah, yes... I beg your pardon, honey. A little sensitive, aren’t we?" "Just making things clear." "Look how cold people become when they’re going to be famous. Have you noticed, Toni?" "So you have work?" Toni asked.
"Sure he’s got work!" Again Emma took charge—"With my brother in law. He’s doing a book for the city on la movida de Madrid. And afterward...much more." "And how do you know about all this?" "Because I’ve talked with Pascual and that’s how. He told me your photos were well received by the publishing board. I even remember his exact words: ‘Awesome photos, Emma, awesome!’" She affected her voice in order to imitate Antonio’s brother. "Jesus!! He said that! When I’m around he just orders me to hack out as many head shots as I can." "Oh come on...I don’t think you have any reason to be angry with your brother, Antonio." "Sepúlveda was here just a little while ago," remarked Toni, "he asked for a water." "That’s all he drinks anymore," explained Antonio. "Well, it’s important to take good care of yourself, right?... Okay, what can I get for you, Antonio—the usual?...and for you, Emma?" "Something delicious." She replied. "Half a chicken?"
....It was an old ongoing joke that used to be repeated, night after night between the two of them... ......Back then they used to gather there with friends and together they would all close the place at three in the morning. In those days the nights always ended with everybody a little drunk—a little glowing with pledges of continued friendships and camaraderie and always promises to get in touch on the very next day. To hear that joke again produced, in Antonio, a sharp sense of distance—this despite the fact that he had been scarcely a year away from his old life... He suffered a sudden sharp stab of tenderness as if he had inexcusably allowed something beautiful to die..
Emma and Toni joined in laughter. Soon after, Toni arrived at the table with their cocktails and a dish of salted peanuts. "Here’s your ‘delicious’ peanuts—Bon Appetit!" (The whole joke came out of the fact that Emma always insisted she came to the pub, solely for the ‘peanuts’. "And," she would explain, "I only have the drinks so I can wash them down.")
They both stared blankly into their glasses. After some moments, Antonio said: "Sometimes I think that all these years have been a miserable waste. Like I was the only one taken in by all that shit about ‘la movida in the Eighties’... Uhh! I was such a child...such an asshole!" "We both were, sweetheart. I wasted time too, you know." "Do me a favor and stop calling me, ‘sweetheart’." "I’m sorry... You’re a little crabby today, aren’t you?" Antonio shrugged and attempted a smile. He didn’t get anywhere near one. "If I could’ve been just two years older...but no...Franco’s death hit me when I was seventeen and still scratching my balls..." "Hit us. Don’t forget, I was only fifteen." "...It’s that...those are your formative years—when you should be deciding where you’re going—finding your niche...studying...something. And me...? What the hell did I go and do...?" "What did either of us do?"
"...A big factory for editing comics and ‘fanzines’. Crap...garbage...nothing... Meanwhile, all the others were thinking of the future. Look at Sepúlveda, Alaska, Ouka Lele, García Alix.....even that friggin’ Belén Zárraga..." "That one married her money to even more money—back to front and nicely done. Oh! If only I could’ve pulled off one like that!" "And she goes around giving the high hat—the ‘he-he’and the ‘ha-ha’—telling everybody where to get off... But, c’mon, who the hell even knows me as a photographer? Who the hell has seen my work, huh?...huh?..." "Well....your friends. They at least know your work." "There aren’t any friends anymore, Emma. Friends are for when you’re young. Now they’re only competitors..." Antonio looked toward the clock with an expression of impatience—"Listen, I’m running very late already and since we didn’t make any fixed plans..."
"Don’t worry... I’ll be just fine right here. I’m sure somebody will find me. Then I’ll go home." "Didn’t you go to your acting class today?" "Yes, but our teacher was sick. His wife called to tell us he wouldn’t be coming in." "Still married? I always thought he was more modern than that." "So did I... He says that he can never leave his wife—that he’s reconciled to loving her on her terms. I also found out that he’s carrying on another affair—also with a girl from my class—Magda. You remember her?" "I don’t know. Maybe." "Well anyway, I got separated and he didn’t. That was a nice deal I cut, don’t you think?" "Listen Emma, you’re one of these practical feminists—you don’t embody it as a re-vindication of your rights...naa. You just use it from time to time in order to get what you want." "Right. Just the same way you use machismo." "That’s it. So we’re both fucked up. What a relief to finally know it." "Why don’t you stay here and we’ll have some drinks? We’re friends, aren’t we? I figure nine years of marriage gives us the right to be friends, anyway... What do you think? Your work—this so-called ‘important’ work of yours is going to keep you from your ex-lover?? It’s Friday—Friday night—even Friday nights are not free from your all important work?"
"I told you already, I’m going to shoot photos. And don’t start in with that ‘ex-lover’ shit. It’s not my fault that you ran off and fucked that big-shot director... Don’t forget, you were the one who left me—eh!" "Should I get down on my knees and beg for your company tonight? Listen, I only went there because I knew you were going to be with Sepúlveda...I came to see you...only you..." "That fuckin’ director’s thrown you over just like I figured." "You don’t know what you’re talking about, Antonio." "Well...then he said he couldn’t live with you—is that it?" Emma smiled as she smoothed her fingers over the edge of the table. "Yeah...He’s an asshole." She fell back into silence as if it cost her dearly to admit that. After some moments, she continued: "His third wife is a Jewish taskmaster from Argentina. He said he doesn’t want any more matrimonial adventures—that with three, he’s had enough." "Oh... And you’re just dying for more matrimonial adventures?" "I was brought up to be a married woman—to have a man in the house. Besides, everybody looks at you like you’re some sort of invalid if you’re not with someone...I don’t know." "Completely the reverse of how it used to be, no? We used to look at the married ones like they were crazy. And remember what our friends said when we got married?... They called us reactionaries." "I guess it’s all a little more complex than that... Anyway, we’ll have dinner tomorrow night then? I’ll come by your studio at about ten or so...?"
The street door swung open and in stepped a couple with another man tagging along. Antonio did not know them, but they seemed vaguely familiar. Emma stood up and warmly greeted the three of them. She indicated that she was free to join them at table and thus round out their party. Antonio announced that he had to be going... He kissed Emma and gave his good byes to the others. As he was leaving, he glanced back and saw that Emma had changed her place. Now she was seated close to the side of the man who had arrived alone. Already they were talking... He remembered how Emma had a remarkable facility of speech—how she could reel off anecdotes and maintain crisp conversation with almost anybody at almost any hour...
Next Month, Chapters: 21, 22, 23 & 24