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“What sort of woman would be your ideal?” Pedro asked nobody in particular one lazy, summer afternoon. There followed a host of sharply-drawn breaths. It was the kind of question you didn’t ask in Juani’s bar. Least, not within her hearing. The same time, it was the kind of question Antolin couldn’t leave hanging in the air.
“That’s a hard one.” The fisherman stroked his chin. “I mean, you can’t expect everything of them, can you?”
“Saints preserve us!” Juani exhaled. She was polishing a wineglass over the sink behind the bar, twirling it in the light to examine for smears. Pedro shot her a sly glance before assuming a regretful tone.
“No,” he said. “Sad as it may seem, you can’t expect everything.”
“Why on earth not?” Juani sang the words in a strained, alien lilt. Pedro pretended not to hear.
“You definitely can’t. That’d be unfair,” he told Antolin. “They’re only women after all.”
Juani spotted a smudge. She began rubbing it so hard the wineglass looked in danger of snapping. Javier had returned to Barcelona two days before. She was going through one of her post-coital depressions, where she couldn’t quite tell if she was glad or sad. Given the entire pueblo knew the couple’s weekend hadn’t gone well, the conversation promised to be interesting.
The two fishermen and I sat huddled round a low table. Stranded in a turbulance of lethargy. The only other customer in the small taverna was Señor Alvarez the grocer. Perched on a stool at the bar, he gazed blankly into his empty glass. Should he have another beer, or was he ready to face Rosa his wife?
“You go first,” Pedro said to Antolin. “Tell us about your ideal woman. But keep it short, so we can all have a turn.” Antolin thought for a moment.
“Well, I wouldn’t want her to be stupid, for a start,” he began. “But she’d have to be less clever than I am.”
“That narrows the field down considerably,” Juani muttered out loud to herself while placing an extremely sparkling glass on a shelf with the others.
The debate was hotting up. Señor Alvarez would have another beer. He signalled for a refill. Juani clanked a fresh glass noisily under the beer tap. He winced.
“I’d definitely want her to cook just like my mother,” said Antolin.
“Do you want to be skinny for the rest of your life?” Señor Alvarez called out. As a grocer he had a vested interest in the sale and consumption of food.
“And she’d have to be a good worker, with strong arms,” Antolin went on. “And clean, of course.”
“Of course,” Juani nodded so briskly her hair fell into her eyes. “She’d have to be clean. Not easy to come by these days, a clean woman.”
Antolin carried on, seemingly oblivious.
“The house would have to be kept neat and tidy,” he explained. “Spotless, with everything in its place.”
“Naturally, every man likes a tidy home,” Juani said, pumping more beer than any glass could reasonably be expected to hold. “That’s why bachelors live in pig sties.” Yet she might as well not have been there.
“And I’d expect to find a selection of freshly-ironed shirts hanging in the wardrobe each morning,” Antolin said. “Lots, so there were plenty to choose from.”
“Hardly needs mentioning,” said Juani, slamming a slopping glass down in front of Señor Alvarez. He jumped. She wiped the counter vigorously. “It’s one of the fundamental rights of every husband.” Still the fishermen took no notice.
“She must be good with money,” Antolin felt moved to comment. “That’s very important.”
“More than important,” Pedro said. “It’s absolutely essential. Even better if she has plenty to start off with. Saves the bother of having to go out to work.” Juani rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
“She should be allergic to using the phone,” Señor Alvarez chipped in. His chatty wife had far too many relations in Argentina. He could visualise her on the phone to Buenos Aires that minute. Perhaps, he ought to be getting back after all.
“Fair point,” Antolin ceded, “I certainly wouldn’t want anything to do with a woman who likes gassing on the phone all day.”
“And she’d have to hate wasting money on fancy hairdos, expensive clothes, and useless stuff like that.” Pedro’s contributions were coming thick and fast. But Antolin was not to be outdone.
“Whenever she did need to buy new clothes,” he said. “Say if her frock was shredding, or her underwear had too many holes to darn, she’d take immense pride in hunting down a bargain, whatever the thing looked like, and be the keenest shopper in town.”
“Si, and she should love tagging along when you go out investing money in expensive new tools and important gadgets,” Pedro added.
“As long as she keeps her mouth shut,” said Antolin.
“And her purse open.” Señor Alvarez was warming to the theme.
“Of course,” said Pedro. But the grocer hadn’t finished.
“She should listen while I explain what the tools are for,” he hurried on, amending as an afterthought: “But she shouldn’t want to touch them.” Followed by another: “Though I might let her clean them from time to time.” Then he remembered. “Well, I would if she didn’t keep losing them.” Two months and he was still looking for his drill key. The search had narrowed down to the laundry room. “She should learn how to respect tools the way men do. And realise they have to be used sparingly, in order for them to have long lives. If at all. But are best left hanging in their rightful places. So I know where they are. I might need them one day.” For the life of him he couldn’t think what Rosa used the key for, it didn’t fit anything save the drill. He doused his train of thought in a swig of beer.
“Above all else,” Pedro said, to get the train back on track, “she should understand a toolroom is a temple devoted to manly pursuits.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling. “A place of rest and contemplation.”
“Forbidden for women to enter.” Señor Alvarez completed the vision.
Antolin’s turn hadn’t finished, yet the two men were rattling away without him.
“Can I go on?” he asked.
“Please do,” Juani said sweetly in her new alien voice.
“As I was about to say,” Antolin continued. “Before I was interrupted. She shouldn’t like shopping for anything other than alcohol and food. She should see it as a woman’s duty and privilege to ensure there is always a good supply of both in the house.”
“Salud!” toasted Señor Alvarez. “Those words are music to my ears. That man should go into politics.”
“She should be good at making clothes for herself and the children out of odd bits of cloth and stuff, like they do…,” Antolin hesitated. “Wait a minute, there’s one really vital thing I mustn’t leave out.”
“What’s that?” Pedro’s newfound eagerness for knowledge knew no bounds.
“She should love to see me watching football on telly. It should be sheer joy for her. Serving up cold cans of beer and sandwiches, as needed. Without me having to ask all the time.”
“That’s so major, it goes without saying,” said Pedro.
“But not so much as to sit in with me and my mates on a game.” Antolin expanded.
“No, no, no!” Pedro slapped a palm on the table. “Sitting in on a game with you and your mates would be going far too far.” But Antolin didn’t want for encouragement.
“It shouldn’t even cross her mind,” he insisted.
“What if there’s just the two of you?” asked Señor Alvarez, who wanted to know the protocol in time for next Saturday’s match.
“If we’re alone, that’s a different matter,” Antolin said. “If we’re alone and she’s finished the washing up and all the other messing about they do. I might let her catch the last few minutes of the second half over coffee. I wouldn’t mind doing that from time to time. If it keeps her happy.” Then, chewing it over, “But only if we’re completely alone. Even then I’d have to be in the right mood. And she shouldn’t feel free to make stupid remarks about shorts and haircuts. Or anything else for that matter. She should watch quietly, and listen to me as I point out the finer aspects of the game. She might learn a thing or two.” He nodded at his own words of wisdom. “The problem with most women today is their ability to say or do things at exactly the wrong moment.” He threw Juani a sidelong glance. “I wouldn’t want to miss any goals.” Each word of the last sentence was delivered with purposeful deliberation. Juani’s jaw dropped as her mouth opened in disbelief. So, that was what this was all about. They’d heard about the Real Madrid match. Javier must’ve told them. He’d made such a to-do over missing three tiny, little goals. It wasn’t as though he’d missed the whole game. Besides, the TV needed dusting just as much as anything else. Nobody could’ve predicted they’d all be scored in the minute it took. As for the plug, it just fell out by itself. If it was only goals they wanted, why watch the whole boring ninety minutes? Why not wait for the replays on the news? They repeated them so often it was enough to make a normal person sick.
“Si, si,” Pedro said, picking up where Antolin had left off. “Football is a subject more sacred than anything. Every man knows that.” He paused for reflection. “But those are just basic requirements. I mean, what should she look like? What should she feel like?”
“Hm, she should have good ankles,” Antolin said. “And good legs, that’s for sure.”
“Pah!” Juani pahhed. Three measly goals, hardly worth the fuss. Men do like to go on about things.
“I love women with good legs,” Pedro sighed. Juani’s eyes narrowed as she stared long-bladed knives into Antolin’s back. He and Javier had planned this. It was her husband’s way of getting back at her, even though he would be at the farthest corner of Spain by now. Safest place for him under the circumstances.
“A nice bottom would be handy. Firm and amply rounded,” said Antolin.
“Now you come to mention it, a good bottom is an asset to any woman’s armoury.” Pedro could almost touch the one in his mind’s eye.
“Not one of those skimpy ones they seem to go in for these days,” said Antolin. “There’s nothing to get hold of.”
“Si, that’s more important than anything,” Pedro purred. “A nice, big bum.”
“From there, her hips should do a hairpin bend into her waist,” Antolin returned.
“And swerve out again, towards her top.” Pedro was right in his element.
“Si, a good pair of breasts is something I’d insist on.” Leaning forward, Antolin raised a finger. “But I wouldn’t want her flashing them about. Oh, no. They’d be none of that. She’d have to show the faithful allegiance of an orphaned puppy saved from drowning, and learn how to respect her master’s wishes in every way. Obedience, that’s what’s called for, blind obedience.” From the corner of an eye he caught sight of Juani creeping noiselessly across the floor. “On the other hand.” He lifted his other hand. “She must have a very friendly disposition. Be the sort to show infinite patience and understanding when it’s needed.” He had to think fast. “Even under extreme provocation. A generous sense of humour would help, and …,” He was stumbling now, a distinct edginess creeping into his voice. “That sort of thing. Know how to enjoy a good joke now and again. Know what I mean?” Nobody answered. “Like to have a laugh,” he explained. “And patience.” He repeated the virtue. “She must have unlimited patience.” His allies had deserted him. “And a forgiving nature. Don’t forget that.” He was on his own. “That’s crucial, she should have a forgiving nature.” Not one man dared look in his direction, let alone lend his support. “Be able to show complete forgiveness.” Turning his head, he peered upwards. Viewed from a low stool Juani seemed much bigger. He smiled in a plea for truce. “Forgive and forget. Lots of forgiving.” Forgiving couldn’t be emphasised enough. “Lots.” Things could go either way. “Without a hint of lust for revenge.” But they were only going one. “Not be vengeful.” He was in full retreat while Juani stood her ground. He affected a cough. “It’s not nice to take revenge.” But the game was up. “Is it?” Not so much as a muscle twitched in Juani’s face. She was biding her time. Waiting to strike. “Ideal in every way,” Antolin said weakly. “Which all women are, of course.” Perhaps the timing was slightly off, but it seemed as good a place to stop as any. “My ideal woman,” he concluded, beaming brightly. Her arms folded, Juani glared down at him. She began tapping her foot on the floor. Marking precious seconds in a very unnerving manner. If they thought they could get away with this they would try anything.
“Is that all?” she inquired politely. A brief hiatus ensued. Anxious looks were exchanged. A very empty hole cried to be filled. God help the man who tried to fill it. Antolin was one of those men who can’t resist them. He cleared his throat.
“More or less,” he said. “I could go on, but I want to be scrupulously fair, and Pedro did say to keep it short.” Cupping a hand to his nose and mouth he emitted a strange series of snorting noises. “Those are my few basic requirements,” he struggled on, his voice quivering. “Now I think it’s time I gave one of the others a chance to air theirs.” Juani swung an elbow towards his head unexpectedly. He ducked, cowering beneath raised arms. “I don’t think any fair woman could complain at those,” he managed to squeeze out before doubling up in laughter, tears streaming down his cheeks. Juani began pummelling his shoulders.
“What a cheek!” she shouted. “Do you think I don’t know what you’ve been up to? You and that husband of mine.” Meanwhile, Pedro feigned ignorance to the goings on.
“You’ve certainly touched a nerve there,” he said slowly, gazing thoughtfully beyond the open door. To all the world the image of a man deep in meditation. “It’s very important for a woman to be passionate and caring. I must admit a sensitive nature has always tended me towards the more passionate and caring of women.” The grin pulling the corners of his mouth broke out. “Especially ones with big boobs.” With that he burst into childish sniggers. Soon we were all laughing uncontrollably. All except for Juani.
“That’s it! That’s it! Out of my bar, all of you!” With an arm outstretched she pointed towards the door. “You’re all such a good catch that women are tripping over themselves to get at you? I don’t see them. I’ve had enough of all this testosterone-fuelled rubbish! Why don’t you go and find yourselves decent women? Not that a decent woman would have any one of you.”
“I didn’t say anything!” I protested.
“You! You!” she jabbed a finger so close to my face I thought she might poke out an eye. “You’re the worst of the lot, listening to it all without saying a word. Don’t think I didn’t see that stupid smirk on your face. I thought you at least might know better. Out! Out! Out!” We clamoured to rise from our stools. “And take that filthy dog with you. How many times do I have to tell you? Dogs aren’t allowed! Dogs aren’t allowed! Out!” Pedro’s mutt dragged itself from beneath the table to slink off with its tail between its legs.
“I think Juani’s trying to suggest now might be an opportune moment for you two to leave,” said Pedro. And with that, the three of us made a dash for the door.
“I don’t want to see any of you back in here unless you bring your brains with you!” Juani yelled after us.
“They won’t be back then,” said Señor Alvarez.
“And you can go as well.”
Copyright © 2011 Bryan Hemming
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