OK, here goes – this is the second part of the story I posted earlier. This is the same story but from a different point of view. I still don’t know whether to keep the two stories separate or to try to combine them, paragraph by paragraph with editing, of course into one single story. Anyway, if anyone reads this, why don’t you let me know what you think – a rewrite into one story or keep the two stories separate as they currently stand.
After the previous weeks of rain and cloud, Spring had definitely arrived – the orange trees had lost last year’s dusty fruit and were beginning to put out their new blossoms –but Anita felt none of her usual pleasure in strolling through the narrow streets of the old Jewish quarter, the Barrio Santa Cruz, on her way to the university of Vedillia. Matt had been gone for nearly two weeks now and she still wasn’t able to work out whether she missed him of not. This morning she was definitely annoyed – and maybe a little worried too – as she had been expecting a letter, or even a postcard, from him but like the last twelve days, there had been nothing in her mailbox. Worse, she had no way of knowing whether he was still in Germany or had moved on to France. She hoped it was the latter as she had sent him some money, poste restante, in Paris as they had arranged before he left.
Sitting down for a moment in the small plaza to watch the children and a small dog scuffle for a fallen orange, she was startled when a stranger asked her for directions to the nearby Avenida de Flores in poor and halting Spanish. About to answer abruptly, she hesitated for some reason and then offered to show him where it was. Gratified by his smile of relief when she answered him in English, she accepted his offer of a coffee in a nearby bar, as much out of boredom as out of a desire to forget Matt and his non-existent letter for a while yet she couldn’t help comparing him with her absent boyfriend and was instantly annoyed with herself for not being able to forget him, even for a minute. Tallish, with sun-bleached fair hair and a contrasting dark beard, the stranger soon made her forget her boyfriend as he told her about himself. Finding him easy to talk to, she listened, smiling, to his semi-tragically told tale of bad luck that had beset him since he had arrived in Vedillia. Hoping to have got an apartment and a job teaching English somewhere in the town, he appeared to have failed in both aspects. No matter where he went or how far he walked, he always seemed to end up in the same street, Calle de Fernando Nunez which seemed, to him, to have almost ubiquitous qualities. Sitting there, enjoying his company more than she had anyone’s since Matt left, she was sorry she had to leave for a lecture. Just as she left, she remembered that the apartment opposite hers on the flat roof of her building would be vacant in a few days and she wrote the address, as well as her own, for him on a napkin.
The lecture was dull and repetitive but she was nevertheless surprised when she found herself attempting to sketch his face in her notebook. Hastily she scribbled it out and sat there for the rest of her class confused, trying to think about Matt, whose dark hair and brown eyes had been so suddenly replaced in her mind’s eye by the sun-bleached fair hair and the blue eyes of the stranger. Almost without knowing what she was doing, she left the campus as soon as her lecture was over and hurried back to the bar where she had left him. Slightly ashamed of herself, she slowed down when she saw him draped over two chairs, drinking red wine and watching a dog fight. Seeing her, he waved and made room for her to sit down. A little tense and feeling strange, she sat on, telling him of her studies and was pleased to find that he had studied medieval literature as well.
As the afternoon light faded, Anita moved her chair further into the shadows, the better to study his face without making it too obvious. She also had a longing to touch his, in places almost white, fine hair. Hunger and feeling insecure – but different to the insecurity she had felt earlier in the day – finally drove her away while he again remained on, seemingly oblivious to her departure.
Checking the mailbox and again finding it empty, she went into her cold and empty apartment and made herself a long gin and tonic. Lying on the sofa, she turned on the radio and then, impulsively turned it off again and went and stood in front of the mirror, staring at herself. Up to only a few hours ago, she thought she had loved Matt unreservedly and had been anxious, not to say hurt, because he hadn’t written and had felt as if she would die if anything had happened to him. Now she honestly didn’t know what she felt and a surge of longing – for who or what, she wondered – swept through her. She turned on the radio again and, deliberately humming one of those songs that she didn’t like, bustled around her small kitchen getting something to eat. Before she was even halfway through her salad, she had finished her gin and tonic and was surprised to find herself making another one. Matt was strong, stocky, dark and serious. The stranger was tall, thin, blond and careless in his attitudes to life and his own situation. They were such total opposites, she couldn’t feel possibly feel any attraction to him, could she? After all, they had only known each other for less than 5 hours or so and there was sure to be a letter from Matt the following day. Relaxing a little, she tried to read but couldn’t concentrate and turned on the television instead. Well, she told herself, maybe she wouldn’t see him again. Of course, it was only because she was a little bit upset as Matt hadn’t got in touch with her, she reassured herself. Sleepless in bed that night, vague white shapes and elongated forms floated past her eyes and it was late before she finally fell into a draining sleep.
Exhausted and haggard the next morning, Anita skipped her morning lectures and lay on the roof sunbathing and half asleep. Apprehensive that he might call, she couldn’t help but be pleased when he did and immediately sensed a new awareness in him towards her as well. Going to see the landlady together, Anita was surprised that the old and corpulent woman didn’t jump at the opportunity of letting the small apartment. However, she hedged and dropped into a dialect, leaving the stranger totally uncomprehending, while she did her best to act as translator but it was the most she could do to get the landlady to agree to some definite news in three days time.
Back at her apartment, they both lay on the roof talking quietly and almost lazily to one and other. Lying on his stomach, he ridiculed himself and his pretenses in teaching – something he had never done before – saying that now he was content just to enjoy himself in Vedillia where wine, sun, oranges and cigarettes were both plentiful and cheap. Inviting him to stay for lunch, she had a fit of conscience as well as a bout of anxiety – again today there had been no letter – and she told him about Matt and how worried she was. He listened without interrupting her except for breaking in once to ask her where Matt was supposed to be. She realized at once by his silence that he had never thought of her having a lover and felt sorry for him but at the same time relieved that she had told him. At least now she could wait and see how he would react.
The afternoon passed slowly and Anita felt no less touched by him but a little awkward and she now regretted telling him about Matt, although he seemed to have forgotten all about it. The sun was just touching the top of the cathedral when some friends of hers – actually, they were more friends of Matt’s than of hers – called in. Again she sensed a feeling of surprise on the part of the stranger that she should have friends, as if he had expected her to be totally alone, like him, in this southern town. For the first time, Anita noticed an almost partisan attitude on the part of her fellow Americans, especially on the part of Norma who used to go out with Matt at one time. Pointedly, she asked when Matt would be returning and then snidely asked the stranger how long he would be staying in Vedillia. Glancing over at him to see how he was taking the barrage of pointed questions which were directed, not only at him but also at her, Anita was relieved to see that he answered Norma smilingly and he winked furtively at her when he noticed her look. Again, Anita felt the bond growing between them and was glad now that she had told him about Matt.
When the guests left, he remained on, lying on the roof, smoking although it was already quite dark, moon bathing, he put it. Only when she started to get something ready for an evening meal did he rouse himself and insist on taking her out for dinner. The night passed swiftly and pleasantly and they sat on in the restaurant, talking and laughing, reluctant ro leave the snug darkness, despite the waiters fiddling with the lights and the ashtray which the stranger had managed to fill three times with cigarette butts. Neither she nor Matt smoked and the sensation of having her nostrils tickled continually with the acrid smoke was both pleasant and annoying. At least, she realized, it was all different. Matt too, at times was pleasant and annoying but she guiltily admitted to herself, always the same in his attitude to things.
Back in her apartment for a nightcap, Anita decided to let things run their course. Although they had drunk quite a bit of wine over dinner, she felt remarkably clear-headed and decided that if he tried to seduce her, not only would she let him, but welcome him as well, as it would feel natural. They sat on drinking and talking and she was genuinely surprised when he got up to go and, before she could help herself, the thought that he might be gay crossed her mind. However, he hung on for what seemed like hours, apparently totally unable to take any definite step in either staying or going. She then realized the full effect her mention of Matt earlier on had had upon him. Despite herself, she found that she could give him no assurance and it was with mixed feelings that she watched him finally leave. Only when he had gone, did she regret her reticence and his hesitancy. Surprising herself, she had another glass of wine but still slept badly that night.
She was disappointed the next day when he didn’t call and she spent most of her time hanging around the apartment and lying, sun bathing on the roof. Again, she deliberately skipped her classes at the university and when she finally did go out to do some shopping., she was convinced that she would find him, waiting on her door step, when she returned. He wasn’t and there was still no letter from Matt in her mailbox. The next day was practically the same, although in the afternoon, she forced herself to go to her lectures. Eagerly she walked past the bar where they had first met although it was slightly out of her way but there was no sign of him. Trying hard to concentrate on her class, she constantly felt Norma’s eyes boring into the back of her head and she was uncomfortably aware of the dark shadows under her own eyes. As soon as the class was over, she left, pretending not to notice the other girl who was waving at her from the other side of the lecture theatre, obviously wanting to talk to her.
On her way home, she walked past the bar but again there was no sign of him and slowly, she tried to adjust to the fact that she most probably would not see him again. After all, although Vedillia was a small town it was still more than large enough to get lost in and it was easy to deliberately avoid seeing someone, if that was what she wanted. The emptiness of her apartment got on her nerves that night and she collapsed on the sofa, close to tears, too dispirited to even turn on the radio. Lying there, she tried to rationalise her thoughts but couldn’t. Matt had been totally blotted from her mind – tonight when she had checked her mailbox, she was looking for a note from the blond stranger as much as a letter from Matt and she couldn’t help being a little surprised
at the suddenness of how her feelings had changed. However, it was obviously all over now and she determined to forget him; after all, what was it but a two-day acquaintance and nothing else? Matt was sure to be home soon and in time, she felt, she could share the experience with him and even laugh about it all. Determined to put him out of her mind, she left the apartment early the next morning and attended all of her classes for the first time in days. Meeting Norma in the university canteen, she was bewildered when the girl casually mentioned that she had met the stranger, who had been alone and intent on getting violently drunk the previous night, in a bar in the old part of town. Fighting to resist the surge of excitement within her, Anita ignored the remark but Norma insisted on speculating about him and it was some time before Anita could get away, her cheeks burning.
Back home later that evening she found a postcard from Matt, sent from Paris, and she immediately began to write a letter to him, full of emotion she wasn’t quite sure she felt any longer for him. Interrupted by a repeated knocking on the street door downstairs, she found the stranger breathing heavily, his hair tousled, outside on the door step. Not knowing what to say, she said nothing while he ranted on about the fat landlady who was meant to see him that afternoon. Instead, the only person he had met was a grubby child who obviously hadn’t understood a single word he had said. Trying to calm him down, she gave him iced lemon tea and went to have a shower to cool down herself and to reflect.
Coming back into the living room, cool and refreshed, she nearly fainted when there was no sign of him. Going out on to the roof, she found him looking out over the parapet at the darkening city, lost in thought. Unable to resist, she ran her hand through his untidy hair and was startled when he swung around, gazing at her in an almost fierce fashion.
The landlady herself opened the door this time when they knocked but Anita found it hard to understand her rapid dialect. Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she saw the stranger slumped against the door lintel, already defeated. Only half understanding the landlady’s excuses that she had promised the apartment to a retired colonel, they turned and went silently to the bodega around the corner. Gulping down a glass of tinto, he cursed quietly and comprehensively for several minutes and when he had finished, she squeezed his hand sympathetically. Laughing, he suddenly ordered champagne and sitting in a corner, they drank and wildly toasted everything they could think of. Surprised that his despondency had so suddenly lifted, Anita was even more surprised when he drew her close and kissed her. Her previous apprehensions and resolves about him evaporating, she clung to him feeling warm and secure.
Back in her apartment, with more champagne, they sat together on the sofa, eating and drinking. While still in bed the next morning, they were interrupted by Matt’s friends calling again. Leaving him in the bedroom, she went to greet them only to be followed a moment later by the partially dressed stranger. Momentarily embarrassed by his appearance, Anita suddenly realized that she didn’t really care what they thought or even would say later. Enjoying their stares and her newly acquired sense of freedom, she openly flirted with the stranger, who seemed the most awkward of them all. Accepting the invitation they had called to deliver, she bluntly stated she would be bringing the stranger with her and the others had no choice but to extend it to him as well. After they had all gone, they lay, laughing and talking, on the roof. Nevertheless, without wanting to admit it to herself, Anita felt guilty and a little worried; Matt couldn’t help but hear of her affaire when he returned. Norma, at least, was sure to drop it in conversation, sooner or later. She didn’t know for sure but she had a feeling that the stranger, with no job and no apartment, and more than probably only a little money, couldn’t remain much longer in the city, although he hadn’t as yet mentioned anything about leaving. For that matter, he hadn’t mentioned anything about staying either, she mused. Matt’s inevitable return seemed faraway when she glanced at the stranger lying peacefully at her side, a lock of his blond hair falling into his eyes as he attempted to read one of her Spanish books.
The party that night was embarrassing for all sides. The host, a close friend of Matt’s was polite but in a cold manner and she began to regret coming. Brazenness kept her there, trying to make conversation with people she didn’t really care about. The stranger made various attempts to talk to people but after ending up twice in heated political arguments, he gave it up and, grinning, confided in her that they might as well get drunk, seeing as the only other thing in abundance besides ill-feelings towards them, was drink. Fending off cruel attacks from Norma about how eager they all were to see Matt on his return, Anita finally realized that if they didn’t leave, either she or the stranger would break. Going home in a taxi, she felt, not so much a storm brewing between them but rather a time when nothing else but frankness could possibly help.
Matters weren’t helped when she found a long letter from Matt in her mailbox, explaining, admittedly in a weak fashion, his long delay in writing to her., Leaving the stranger, morose and quiet, in the living room, she sat on the edge of the bath, reading and rereading the letter, trying to understand where her heart really lay. Later that night, they talked things over fully, for the first time, and she put her cards on the table. She did love Matt, of that she was sure; what she wasn’t sure of was why the stranger had so fully managed to put her boyfriend in the shade. Long familiar with the fickle and unfaithful streaks in her own nature, she asked if there could be anything else in their affair? When he didn’t answer her, she felt her throat constrict with pity and immediately kissed him and said that she hadn’t meant that at all. She loved him, definitely, but how could it last? He would have to leave soon if he couldn’t find work. Passionately he attacked her, insisting that he would never forget her, even if she could forget him so easily and then, just as quickly, fell silent, as if recognising the truth of what she had said and the inevitability of their separation. Embracing her strongly, he claimed that he would come looking for her in fifty’s year’s time.
Restless and depressed, Anita was awake long before him the next morning and lay on her side, watching his slow, level breathing and loving him, despite herself. As if he sensed her gaze, he woke suddenly and she quickly rubbed away the tears she could feel gathering in the corner of her eyes. Lying there, her arms encircling his chest, he slowly pushed her away and drew on her stomach with his finger five oh and she immediately felt the tears prick her eyes again. Quickly he drew her to him and swallowing deeply, she managed to whisper, sooner than that, before she felt her throat constrict.
Leaving her that morning to go back to his pension to collect his bags, she lay on the roof and cried silently to herself, choking, almost with fear, when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. It was only the woman who lived on the floor below coming up to take clothes off the line, but all the same it was an effort to answer her greeting. When the stranger finally returned after noon, looking tired and depressed, she was prepared for the worst and wasn’t that surprised, although it didn’t soothe the instantaneous ache, when he told her that he had decided to leave in three day’s time. Clinging together, he murmured, fifty years, and she finally broke down in front of him, only to hear him sob as well.
Getting up early on the Thursday morning to have as much time as possible together, there was an awkward, but understanding, constraint between them. Each felt that they had advanced as far as words could take them, while still coming to terms adapting to their newly found communicative silence. Standing embracing in the hallway, both of them clearly heard the key turn in the hall door lock. Almost paralysed with fear, they separated and watched as Matt, bearded and rugged looking, walked in. Hesitating and half numb, Anita turned slowly towards him, only part of her mind registering the fact that the stranger was actually leaving. Matt smiled and said something she didn’t properly hear, confusing it with the almost half-whispered, maybe in fifty years, of the departing stranger. Stepping towards Matt, the tears flowed down her face.