It had been almost a ritual for the past three years. He would drink, he would insult her and those that were present at the time would act as if nothing had happened. This time the argument had taken place at one of those parties which they both usually left in the early hours of the morning, but Gabriela could not bear it past midnight and left saying furiously that this would be the last time.
She felt angry because up to that moment she had simply been that drunkard’s companion and had seen no benefit come of it. The work he had promised to get her when they started going out had never appeared, and the contacts he assured he had to help her networking were made up. All that awaited her was a night of mediocre sex and the promise of a new dress. In spite of this Gabriela stayed with him. She had worse memories of other relationships. At least in this one no punches were thrown and no upset wives had threatened her.
Was she enticed by heated relationships? Probably, but she had found no way of leaving him and nor was she on the lookout for one immediately. The problem was not simply that Roberto had shouted at her in public but that he was a poor bastard. It had not bothered her before but now it was a very heavy burden.
She felt so angry that she was on the verge of tears when another guest came out for fresh air. They were the only people who were outside the house so the man felt obliged to talk and he approached her to offer a cigarette. She accepted it, although in fact she did not smoke. On seeing him up close she realized that he was one of the observers of her altercation with Roberto.
“That guy is such a lout, don’t you agree?” said the stranger while he lit her cigarette and then his. He briefly thought that the girl might take offence, as happened so often when someone tried to defend a girl and she did not want to be defended, but on this occasion it did not occur.
“You bet. He’s a complete idiot. If I had two dimes for every time he has offended me in public or in private I would be rich and I wouldn’t come to these boring parties to find a job.”
“Are you looking for one? Because I’d pay you more than two dimes to let me insult you.”
Gabriela’s frown vanished and she laughed heartily thinking the sophisticated looking sixty-year-old was pulling her leg.
“Are you joking?”
“No” said the man in a serious tone of voice. “I would pay you a thousand dollars if you let me insult you in public like you let your boyfriend do today.”
“That jerk is not my boyfriend.”
“Whatever he is, then. What do you think? Do we have a deal?”
“Are you being serious?” she asked him in disbelief.
Before anything else crossed her mind, Gabriela thought about the money that was being offered. When she glanced into the man’s eyes again she decided to take no notice of his strange offer.
“Or maybe just in need of a bit of respect,” insisted the old man.
“And shouting at me in public makes you respectable?”
“Probably not but I will get attention… My past is my own, I’m not going to tell you anything about it, just say if you accept what I am proposing.”
She looked at the floor and then peered up at him again.
“When would this be?” she asked timidly.
The man took a drag from his cigarette and thought for a few seconds before answering.
“In a couple of weeks I’m going to meet a few of friends for drinks. You will come as my companion and...”
“And of course, you understand that we are not going to have sex.”
“Crystal clear. At my age the idea of insulting a beautiful woman is more exciting than making love to her.”
“Can I ask why?”
“No, no you can’t. Accept the deal if it suits you.”
Gabriela looked in her bag for a notebook but found nothing more than a paper napkin. On it she wrote her telephone number and gave it to him.
“There, you’ve got my details. Call me. I’m going to leave now; I’ve no intention of going back to the party with that moron who insults me for free.”
“Quite right. Gratuitous insults are tasteless.”
By Saturday afternoon she had decided to say no to the man whom she had met at the party. She was listening out for the phone and had gone over what she would say: “Sorry, but I’ve slept on it and the truth is that I don’t feel I can make a spectacle of myself like that...I won’t do it”. A spectacle; she had already given a dozen of these for free but this one had more than a hint of madness about it. When the old man called, Gabriela forgot all about her speech. They arranged to meet at eight at the door to her home. “Wearing a cocktail dress, don’t forget.” She asked him to remember that sex would not be on the cards. He assured her that it was her resistance to humiliation that interested him more.
The man pulled up at the arranged time. They differed on what he had meant by “cocktail dress.” He looked at his watch and said that he knew a dress shop that closed at nine so they should hurry and buy a more appropriate dress for where they would be going. She had a feeling that all the money she would receive would be spent on it. Cocktail dresses are expensive, she thought. He guessed what she was thinking given the serious and thoughtful look on her face. He assured her that this expense would not affect her pay; Gabriela agreed delightedly. A new dress also made her feel brand new the moment she put it on, although in the end old Gabriela would always end up doing the same silly things she always did.
A little while later in the south of the city, the car stopped in front of a house. When they arrived, the man introduced her as a friend with a knowing look that made his friends think that they were more than just acquaintances.
Kind comments on her dress and polite manners made her forget the reason for her being there. Champagne flutes and well-dressed people impressed her; she was delighted to be able to be at the party. For a fleeting moment she thought that the man would change his mind and it would all amount to an intention to put on a show. He was drinking brandy, his third in an hour. It was almost midnight and the party was winding down when Gabriela approached him to say in his ear that she needed to make a call.
“Who the hell to?” he asked in a loud voice. His tone surprised her but she said that she would call a friend.
“You’ve got to be kidding! Are you bored already? Did you realize that your one hundred word vocabulary isn’t enough to speak to anyone here?”
Gabriela felt like she’d had the wind taken out of her and looked at him with wide eyes.
“Why are you saying this to me? I only want to make a call. I don’t think that it...”
“Why am I saying this to you?! Because it’s true! Can you hear yourself speak, girl? Obviously not! You are soignorant. You insist on coming to meet intellectuals and now you’re bored and you want to find a friend, one surely as stupid as you to take a call at this hour.”
She kept quiet. Then she realized that her work had begun. Her cheeks were burning and her eyes sparkled with anger. Her distress was genuine. People who had smiled kindly at her in conversation some moments ago now looked at her with morbid interest. The man continued:
“Just so you know: I only brought you here because we shagged, not because I think you’re right for me, everyone here already knows you’re my bitch.”
“You’re taking this way too far,” she muttered raising her head to look him in the eyes.
“I don’t give a shit about your modesty. Go on, fuck off! I don’t want you to make my friends feel uncomfortable with your presence, wait for me in the car!” he ordered. Gabriela left without saying goodbye. She felt that the man had pushed the boundaries but she thought about the money. She had earned it so she did as she was told.
The man came down to the parking lot a few minutes later. He looked at her and spoke in a low voice:
“We’re almost done… Come on you idiot, get in the car! Don’t you understand English?” he said, raising his voice. Once he was in the driver’s seat the man’s stern face transformed into a smile, grinning with satisfaction.
“I have to say you did really well! Here, do take your money,” he said extending five two hundred dollar notes towards her. Gabriela took them and put them in her bag.
“Can I ask why...?”
“No, no you can’t ask anything I’m afraid…but I’ll tell you something and I hope I don’t come across rude but your beauty radiates when you are humiliated. Your cheeks turn pink and your eyes sparkle. Your lips tremble. Without wanting to offend you needlessly, I must say that anyone would want to humiliate you just to see that face.”
She did not know if this was flattery or an insult. In case of doubt, the first thing she did was to say thank you for the comment. If she had been wrong she could say she was being ironic.
“Thank you…although for a moment I thought you were going to hit me.”
“Definitely not! The deal was to verbally humiliate you in public. Nobody is going to call the police over a few insults.”
Gabriela was silent for the rest of the journey to her house, she thought about how difficult it had been to endure it all but also she remembered that there was no job that was easy on the first day. She did the math. A thousand dollars for three hours of her life was not to be sniffed at. The party had even been enjoyable, despite how it had ended. She could consider herself an actress on the stage; well, why not? The advantage was that, being so sensitive, shouting always made the color rise to her cheek. She couldn’t remember anything else that had worked out as well as letting herself be mistreated and biting her tongue to stop herself from responding to insults. Before getting out the car she turned back to say something.
“You can keep my number. If you need me to work for you on another occasion, please do call me.”
“I will do, sweetie. Thank you, it was a great night,” said the man, with a look on his face that said he had had a weight lifted off him.*
Translated by Felicity Sylvester (PGDip Translation Studies with Interpreting, University of Leeds, UK)
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BOOKS BY PAOLA TINOCO (Será por Libros)
"Paola Tinoco García", review (Leedor.doc)
"Gustos culpables", reading (YouTube)
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|Fuente: * From the book Oficios ejemplares, Madrid, Páginas de Espuma, 2010.|