A Short Story From:  Strangers And Graves
Peter Feibleman

     The Senora de Quico stood just inside the room and shut the door behind her. She was a large woman, solid rather than fat, with oiled black hair and huge dim sensual eyes. She crossed her arms over her heavy breasts and then turned her right wrist and hand sharply under her left armpit. The movement was like a tic and she said, "Bueno, y que’?"--meaning "All right, now what?"--and waited there. She indicated that a big foot was tapping in her mind. Never since they had known the wife of Quico had she dared to make such an entrance. She was meaning to display that she had lost the final vestige of politeness with them. "I will treat you people like animals, because you are animals, because you are not people." In most of Andalucia if you come into a room without saying good evening that is what you mean.
     His father said. "Good evening, Senora."
     He and his mother and sister murmured it.
     La de Quico nodded. Then she lifted her shoulders. Then she made the quick turning tic-like motion with her wrist and hand again, and took the hand out and pointed to her throat. "I cannot eat the good evenings," she said. "They stop here. I cannot swallow them. They will not go down, the good evenings. They must not be good for me. Sometimes I have them on the stomach all night; the doctor has warned me about trying to digest all the good evenings, I must be very careful. To some people the good evenings are very valuable. To me, no. I did not come here for any good evenings."
     She lowered her hand and tucked it under the armpit again and waited.
     "I do not have money today, Senora," his father said.
     "Que’ cosa mas rata," the Senora de Quico said, "What a rare thing. I thought that you had millions of pesetas. However, listen . . . you have plenty of good evenings. With what did you buy the good evenings?"
     "The good evenings are not bought," his father said.
     "No?" the Senora de Quico said.
     "The good evenings have nothing to do with money," his father said.
     "Ah," the Senora de Quico said. She batted her lids brightly. "I understand now. You cannot buy them because they are not worth anything."
     His father kept his face turned in her direction and the small white clobbers over the pupils in his eyes seemed to tense and grow whiter. "Politeness is not in the market, Senora," he said. "There are other things than money that make value."
     "Si ya lo se’," the Senora de Quico said. "I have the other things at home. I do not come here for the other things."
     "Senora, I have already told you. Today I have no money. I am very sorry," the man said. But there was no bending in his voice. He did not sound very sorry.
     The Senora de Quico watched him. She hated the blind man and she could not help herself. It was not her fault. She had not hated him when she first came to collect money; she had had no feeling then one way or the other. He was just another client with an unpaid bill. But little by little his limitless pride in simply being alive, his lack of fear ate into the fever of her blood like too many aspirins and poisoned her. The Senora did not know the difference between arrogance and pride because she herself was arrogant and had no pride. She mistook the blind man's facing her openly, as he did, the only way he could, for something else. She thought in her arrogance that she saw arrogance in him; the man owed her money and yet he did not pretend to quake and he did not plead with her as the others did who could not pay and he did not allow his wife to either. His silly useless wife always cried, the Senora knew, on purpose to make her feel pity: so did most of the other wives she collected from. But this one had even to do that without the husband's knowing. If the blind man ever suspected that his wife was crying he would send her out of the house. Such was the power of the pitiless humorless, blind honorable man. Not that she, the Senora de Quico, wanted anyone's tears. But she was used to them. The tears and the pleading and the tearing of the hair, such outbursts of melodrama were parts of the scenes she played weekly in one variation or another--in all the houses where people could not pay and the bills were as old as this one. She was a woman with a melodramatic frame of reference. The blind man was peculiar. It was not only his arrogance, she thought, that made her angry; it was his unwillingness to play the scene as written. Her anger was partly that of the stage actress whose leading man stops the scene by forgetting his lines on opening night and then makes the pause look like hers. Every visit to the blind man's house was like another bad opening night to the Senora de Quico. The blind man embarrassed her; she could count on it, whether he had money or not he embarrassed her, and she never quite knew how. She believed secretly it was because he was cleverer than she, but she kept that secret even from herself. Every time it loomed up in her mind she pushed it back with her stomach. She was glad in her private mind that the bill was this long overdue. It gave her the opportunity to release her anger at the blind man, and she was beginning to need an opportunity. The days of complimenting them on the realism of each one of the thorns of Christ were over, thank God. That had been all she could think of to do as the betrayed actress when her leading man just sat there. In the embarrassment of trying to fill those silences she had gone to the photograph again and again--until she could hear her own voice quiver--until she sounded ridiculous to herself and then could hear the silent tittering in the minds of the audience, made up, finally and unfairly, of the man's children and of his wife. The wife now: the wife. The wife bothered her almost as much as the blind man and the Senora de Quico could not begin to know the reason. But the silly woman sitting there crying infuriated her. The woman had no right to cry against the wishes of her husband; whatever else he was, he was her husband and he plainly did not wish his wife to cry. The Senora de Quico despised the woman for it. There were many dim things the Senora de Quico did not know about herself and one of them was that she was more than a little bit in love with the blind man. She was tremendously sexually attracted by him, much more than she had been by any man she had ever known, and because she had never acknowledged sexual attraction in herself she was not sure what it was and she mistrusted and mistook it for something else, just as she mistook the blind man's pride for arrogance. She mistook her own sexual response for loathing. It was easy to do, she only had to turn it around. It turned like a magnet and instead of being attracted she was repelled by him. Somewhere in the deepest part of her she did have to keep turning the magnet every time she saw him but that was a small price to pay. She could do it willingly and anxiously. One afternoon she had come when the man's wife was out and she had relaxed too much in his presence and she had felt something inside her begin to turn back the right way. The something was only the sexual magnet but the right way was the wrong way for the Senora de Quico and after that she kept the grip of her mind firm on the magnet and her eyes carefully on the thorns of Christ. There are certain things that are apt to occur in twos, such as death and desire and people telephoning the wrong number. That much she knew and she did not intend to let this turn on her again. She was a godfearing woman, the Senora de Quico, and she was married to the best butcher in town.       
     Well, almost the best.
     The best in this part of town.

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