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issue 17: march - april 2000 

Catalan original | interview

by Matthew Tree
translated from the Catalan by the author

  Do I remember what? What are you on about? Which spring? When? End of the last century? Ahhh, I know which one you mean, the one when I smoked as if the tobacco plant was in danger of extinction. Oof! When I behaved - I'm perfectly well aware of it, don't you worry - like an overwhelmed adolescent; like a pitiful sucker; like a miserable imbecile and a self-pitying pillock not to mention a hysterical victim of the kind who ought to have the shit beaten out of him by his own friends on a regular basis. That's what you should have done, in fact, instead of covering up your eyes, making little horrified noises and scarpering off to anywhere where I wasn't. Why were you so soft on me in those days The whole thing started not long after I'd got to know a girl who was good-looking, cheerful, intelligent and creative, but who I couldn't get it up with, or not very often. This bothered me no end. And when she broke her leg, things got even worse. So one Saturday night I left her with her crutches for company and went off, thoughtful and shrunken, to a place that was chock-full and sat on my own, surrounded by gays and posh girls and foreigners from northern Europe and drunks chewing their words the way rabbits do carrots, and I leant against the bar soaked in beer and Nordic saliva with a hung head and an ironic face, philosophically coming to terms with the need to wave goodbye to the ranks of the sexually active population, looking back nostalgically, convinced as I was that I was impotent, sterile, barren, neutered; in a nutshell, biologically superfluous. You bet I remember.

Two girls popped out of the void while I was knocking back my fifth gin and tonic. I was looking for the barman with my abandoned-dog eyes to order one for the road, and there they were, smack in front of me, asking for a light. One was local and the other was a dark-haired Norwegian called Montse, a typical Scandinavian name, so she said, who understood Catalan, which was unusual for a foreigner, back then. I was happy enough to chat and drink - especially drink - with them, and it wasn't long before I began to look at them with eager, beady eyes, and one was a bit on the small side and the other one, the foreigner, was more on the tall side and it seemed to me that they were talking in that uninhibited way typical of single women who are out fishing; and maybe, I concluded once I'd finished my eighth long drink, it wasn't totally inconceivable that one or the other of them might fancy a quick dip, as it were,  albeit with a lousy swimmer like me. But which one, which one would it be? And there I was, already making up excuses for when the inevitable would happen at the moment of truth: no, no, this happens to me all the time, it doesn't mean I don't find you attractive, etcetera, when the local one came up to me and as she pointed to the Norwegian one she said:             "If you ask me, Montse needs a boyfriend…"
It was like a chequered flag coming down, and I was out on that dance floor in a flash, trying a trial kiss (typically Scandinavian). We didn't waste a lot of time getting out of there, leaving the local one behind and taking a taxi to the Nordic one's flat, where I waited on the sofa while she made the bed which I was able to get into once she was waiting for me there naked apart from a gilt necklace, a detail that reminded me of a previous girlfriend who had always worn one with a little whistle tied to it that had swung all over the place in that distant time, moments when I'd felt a tremendous temptation to lean forward and blow on it with all my might, like an old-fashioned policeman, and now there wasn't any whistle, just the gilt necklace against Montse's pinkish [1] skin and I started to think about the word rosada [2]  and how I'd always found it erotic and exciting and Montse was waiting for me now poorly lit by a chink of dawn light and I soon found I couldn't stop making love to her, as she called it, or fucking as I thought of it as I did it; we went on through the morning and afternoon and would have gone on and on if we hadn't got up to go for a drink and continue the little conversations that had slipped in between penetration and penetration. As we were taking the lift she hugged me and told me I was a good lover, a compliment that didn't make me big-headed for once because I knew that in fact I hadn't done anything special, everything had just turned out fine for once, I've even won the odd game of chess, these things happen.

Downstairs in the bar, talking about this and that, I mentioned offhand that I didn't like going much to the place where we'd met because an ex-friend of mine went there quite often, and he hated me no end because of an ugly and complicated misunderstanding. When I described him (short, dark, with a moustache) her cold eyes began to sparkle.
           "What's his name?"
I told her and she shook her head, taken aback because it turned out that this ex-friend of mine was a current friend of hers, a mate, what a coincidence, it's a small world blablabla. I changed the subject at once, by asking her what her job was. And she wasn't an English teacher, for example, or anything in that line: she was a distributor of furry toys for a foreign company. A woman with class, or so I couldn't help thinking, a woman who belonged to the international business world, to that network of bosses without frontiers who were forever giving each other unnecessary presents as they filled in their expense accounts and nibbled at the haute cuisine of wherever. A yuppie (that's what they were called then) within touching distance. Quite a promotion, after the string of secretaries I'd been penetrating for I didn't know how long: what a change, to find myself facing the mystery of those cold, dark, forest-born eyes, their stare sharpened, no doubt, by the stress and tension of high finance. And this impressive Nordic woman was asking me so many questions. Naturally, I told her all about the girl with the crutches, and there and then my eyes popped open in surprise, because Montse was telling me, in all seriousness, intelligently, eagerly, that she wanted me all for herself, not shared, all or nothing, this came from deep down; in other words she had something there, something that was warm and untypical; we went on talking for hours and hours, until I told her that I would call her when she came back from her next business trip (a couple of weeks later) and that meanwhile I'd try and sort everything out with the crippled girl. I left Montse in her doorway and headed back home, hands in pockets, confused, vain, worried, puffed up, walking through the shadows, thinking about how I'd explain it all properly to the other girl before I ditched her, so that I could go back, a fortnight later, to caressing, fondling, and entering Montse, to sucking and licking her in the appropriate places, to whispering obscenities in her ear and sticking my finger up her arse, but with my conscience clean, spotless, as untarnished as that of those nuns who lock themselves away behind iron bars and never say a word to a soul, who I'd seen in Soria once.


Once the Norwegian woman was on her plane, I went at once to the lame girl to tell her everything, thinking that I was being honest and mature. All I did was hurt her and make her cry, and she ended up by showing me the door:          "Goodbye."
And I had only a few days to wait until the arrival of Montse's return plane.

Once it had landed I gave her a call, and went over to her place:
            "I won't be seeing the other one any more, so there's nobody else, OK?"
And Montse seemed surprised, then relieved, and then happy. Not the happiness of a career woman who's just stuck another feather in her cap, but a happiness that was humble, gentle, and rather unprofessional instead.

That week, although in theory I had to work evenings, we saw each other every night in a variety of bars and told each other about the ups and downs of our lives, details we had previously confided only to our most intimate friends. This display of mutual honesty surprised us both, as we leant back in our seats, smiling, amazed, kissing each other, amazed, leaving hand in hand, amazed.

It so happened that she had to go on another business trip, to Paris this time, and we spent the entire weekend in bed. The light caught us eating each other like a couple of famine victims, and left us in each other's arms, calling up Pizza World. What was it exactly that fascinated me so much? Was it the idea of going out with an executive? Or was it true what I told my friends then, that she and I had discovered a new kind of personal contact, a complete mutual understanding despite the obvious differences, and limitless boredom-free talks that went well beyond the little conversations that had first slipped in between penetration and penetration?


One night (you bet I remember)  I called her up in Paris, late, and she wasn't in her room. I surprised myself by curling up as if slugged in the stomach, and right there and then I insulted her, I let her have it – or rather, let the wall  have it, because she (so I supposed) was probably in some fashionable Parisian bar with some faceless well-dressed sod, smiling, flirting, flighty, like those people in the vermouth ads who wear expensive watches and talk about the stock market as they raise their glasses and ogle each other in anticipation of fucking like horses. I hadn't suspected that I loved her, but that childish and desperate rage together with the twists in my belly that made me shit three times in a row that night, were without a doubt the first sign of love.

She came back, and I entered her home with an icy, sarcastic farewell speech on a loop in my brain, just as she was coming out of the shower. We looked at each other, she in her towel and me in my best shirt that I'd put on especially to say goodbye, and each recognised in the other a mutual fear, a first sign of love, a misplaced timidity. We went over to each other and kissed, clutching at each other, until she managed to say:
            "I've missed you so much."
In her Scandinavian accent that made my hair stand on end and, cursing myself for having doubted her even for a moment, happier than a cat in a room out of bounds, I kissed her some more, on her wet neck, on her hair, on her throat, on her cheeks, on her ears, between her cheeks and her ears, on her lips, on the corners of her mouth and we were going to do more things when we realised that Montse's flatmate was also in the sitting-room with her boyfriend and three friends of theirs who had come down from Scotland that afternoon. Montse stepped back into the bathroom.
            "Come along."
We closed the door, and, alone at last, next to the toilet bowl, as we breathed in remains of soapy steam, I whispered to her, smiling, my eyes full of meaning and feeling:
            "Montse, Montse, Montse."
And I decided to learn Norwegian, so I could get to know her better.


But I didn't pick up a syllable of it during the eight days that we lived together. We hadn't planned to spend so much time at her place, but every time that we had to go out and see friends, the sweet preference for staying on our own won out; for my part, I found that this girl had the maturity, depth, stability, calm and independence (her eyes were as attentive and clever as those of Melanie Griffith in Something Wild) which I'd been searching for ever since my first disastrous affair, when I was an inept, jittery twenty-year-old. All of a sudden it struck me that women had always made me furious with what I'd seen as manias and worn-out maternal gestures, but that now I could spend over a hundred and ninety hours with Montse, having cocktails, listening to music, making the bed, ironing clothes and sweeping the floor, I didn't shout at her or bark at her, as I'd used to do with other women; not with her, said a voice inside me, with her, make an effort. And so, with an imaginary drill, I drilled into my head, filled as it was with circumstances and bits and bobs and spongy things, drilled down until I reached the gurgling source of this refreshing voice, this new-found self-respect.  

A self-respect that gave me the wherewithal to talk to the dark-haired Norwegian woman about mutual friends, about non-mutual friends, about enemies, about long affairs, about unloved ex-lovers, about relationships and about the clichés they so often give rise to, about our own families and about those of other people; about sexual positions, about the perversions we were interested in, about the ones we weren't interested in at all and about the ones we might have been interested in if we hadn't been so exclusively interested in each other; about sexism, about feminism and about homosexuality, about the lies we had had to listen to from people we'd loved and about the pain that had caused; we talked about languages, about children and about the languages that any hypothetical children might end up speaking, about contraception and about venereal diseases and about the Damocles sword of the current lethal virus; about different countries and about the journeys we'd be able to make once the summer had begun, the long and longed-for summer, the summer soaked in our sweat both mixed and pure, the summer of stretching ourselves out on the sand, centred and cosy (watched by the sun), though it would be so easy to imagine the sky sucking us up the way a straw would a couple of swallows of soft drink: the summer, the summer of anticipated love.  

It was still springtime with us, of course. The eighth and final day of our intimate little rest period. The sun didn't take long to vanish slowly, reddening the stones of the houses until these became asymmetrical networks of square lights in which you could see people of all ages as they watched the telly or did their homework. We were in bed and had made love a couple of times. I looked at her hair breasts navel belly pussy legs and in the end at her face. I took a good look at it, until I wasn't seeing any human face at all any more, until eyebrows eyelashes eyes nose nostrils mouth and chin melted into the shadows, like the blocks on the other side of the street. I began to think fixedly about the body beside me and about the bodies of the TV viewers and students in the lit squares, about the pink and simple bodies of the girls with whom I'd managed to have intercourse, as the doctors who inspect so many bodies call it; I thought about the aged and periodically damaged bodies of my parents and of those which we might create, her and I: thoughts that would never have occurred to me, here and in this way, if it hadn't been for the eight gin and tonics in the chock-full place, at the very beginning of this love which now had me in its grip. The light faded while my heart floated happy in the darkness, hopeful and optimistic as I glimpsed a future in which I was loved and free of doubts. The person responsible for all this unexpected future happiness asked me why I was crying and I told her I didn't know. After a short silence, she said that that same day they'd called her from work to tell her that they'd promoted her and that the very next day they were going to send her to South America for three weeks to buy paw and eye replacements for the teddy bears:
            "I'll miss you so much."


The absence of the loved one upset me. Barcelona - the most densely populated city in the world after Calcutta, so they say - seemed empty to me. I thought about Montse obsessively. I cried like a sentimental German when I watched Amadeus one night and I grimaced like a happy oaf when the secret agent kissed his housewife accomplice in Scarecrow and Mrs King as I was digesting my daily sandwich. And every night I spread out my limbs, spider-like, on the mattress and tried not to masturbate (by way of proof of my fidelity) until I fell asleep.

The next day I wrote Montse a love fax in which I told her what I needed to tell her, all in one go, without paragraphs, and I took it to the corner stationer's where I waited at the end of a queue of schoolgirls who wanted photocopies, until finally I was able to deliver it to the assistant who tried to send it over to Montevideo and the bastard machine couldn't get through and I smoked a cigarette and it still couldn't get through and I noticed the assistant hadn't been able to avoid reading some of it and I was red as a beetroot when finally the machine did finally get through. Then the days slipped by… Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. No answer.  

Personally, whenever I'd spent a night alone in a modest B&B, I had always found the atmosphere stimulating and suggestive, that combination of solitude, discretion and freedom was powerfully sexual, and there was Montse in five-star hotels in underdeveloped countries and everyone knows that those are the most luxurious ones, with three-dimensional porn channels and electric fingers installed in the waterbeds. It wasn't a question of a faceless sod in a fashionable Parisian bar anymore; this time I imagined Montse simmering in a jacuzzi with a gang of wealthy South Americans, all of them rolling about with glasses of mescal in their hands and gold-teeth smiles, except for her, she kept her laughter discreet and professional in the way I'd heard her do when she was talking business on the phone; and so, terribly restless, at two in the afternoon I started to drink bottle after bottle of beer and by the time I entered the chock-full place at one in the morning I was practically legless. I leaned against an empty oildrum that served as a table, and took a look around. There was the usual mix of foreigners taking advantage of the anonymity to jump about like they'd just escaped from a loony bin, and of local people trying to imitate them. I was wondering whether to join in or not, when I caught sight of the crippled girl, now cured, bopping enthusiastically. She came over to me and, very friendly, given the circumstances, asked me how I was. She had to repeat it a couple of times until I managed to blurt out:
            "I'm in love."
She looked at me with a mixture of disgust and disappointment before walking off and leaving me on my tod. I was going to order a drink when I glimpsed a short shadow with a moustache, glass in hand: my enemy (who by coincidence was also Montse's friend) looking straight at me. I all but ran for the door.

The next morning, they called me from the stationer's and, badly hung-over, I went down to pick up the answer to my fax: long, written in freehand, it informed me that the woman of my life missed me to the extent that she could scarcely bear it any more, and begged me to send her another message as soon as possible. As ecstatic as a practising Catholic about to chew the host, I thanked heaven as I got ready to fight to the end to help this maiden obliged to trade furry bears in distant countries, rotting in her assigned Hilton. The sun grew brighter for me, the air purer, the clouds fluffier and I immediately started writing an answer to her answer. But by the time I'd finished it my stationer's had closed along with all the others. I went to a department store in the city centre but they didn't have a fax machine, so I took the metro to their other branch to the north of the city, I got there twenty minutes before they closed, they did have a machine, on the ninth floor, but when I got up there I was told it had broken down; they suggested a place half-way between the centre and the north, I went there at a fast walk but couldn't find it, I went on until I was back in the centre, trying all the big luxury hotels until one of them said they'd send it for me. After two hours of trying, they got through, I paid, went back home, chuffed and cheerful, and parked myself in front of the telly for the rest of the night.


A few days before Montse's long-awaited return I couldn't help asking myself if it was good to go on like this, only feeling well and whole when I had her at my side, because when she wasn't there bit by bit I became a feeble, watery-eyed person, then a hesitating wimp, and then an unstable good-for-nothing who in next to no time would turn into a half-person with a glass glued to his hand,  a stammering and faceless soak. For a few days I even doubted if it was worth going on, until I heard the voice from deep down again, with her, make an effort, and it was with one final and definitive effort that I went to meet her at the airport.

There was a big hug, but not as big as previous ones, a long look into each other's eyes that was shorter than at other times, and a tongueless kiss, there in the all but empty arrivals section. In the taxi I put my arm round her but she stayed rooted in place, as if the gesture annoyed her. Once home, she took teddy bear after teddy bear out of an enormous suitcase and lined them up on a coffee table as she talked about new models and about how the Spanish market might react to them. She didn't want to make love that night, and lay down next to me, cold as a salted anchovy, a speciality of her country, she'd told me at some point previous to the South American flight, when there had still been something warm and untypical behind the dark, forest-born eyes.  

Her coldness towards me increased in the days that followed, without her seeming to notice it until I asked her what was going on and she replied, honestly enough:
            "I don't know. I need time."
Frustrated and nervous, I used the next four days to write her a letter in which I reminded her of everything that had happened between us, from the spiritual conversations to the fucking at twilight, including many of the things that she had told me: that I kept her sane and balanced, that I was the man who'd made her happiest, that I could do with her as I wished, and all the other little sentences that one person says to another when they're head over heels. The letter seemed to do the trick: the old Montse came back and I started seeing her again, as happy again as a cat in a room that's etcetera and things went on like that for a few more weeks.  


Until, without warning, back came the tacit rejections in bed, until it got to the stage where I had an agonising hard-on every night that refused to go away, keeping me awake and obliging me to chain smoke in order to pass the time and help the erection to subside. After a while, I told her I'd had enough of it all and she told me that she still didn't know what was happening to her, that she felt completely devoid of any kind of feeling, that she couldn't make love and she couldn't love, but that she wanted me, she loved knowing that somebody loved her, so she said.  

Then I lost my grip completely and wrote two more letters to her, one to end the relationship, which she accepted saying it was surely the best thing to do, and another, two days later, to convince her to try again, which she also accepted, saying that we should meet up again. So we had supper together, and she told me that she really didn't want us to split up. But she added:
            "I'm still not ready to sleep with you."
            "I can't. I've got a party. I'll call you on Saturday morning, OK? To arrange to meet."
That Saturday I woke up earlier than usual, and waited for a call that didn't come. After a few hours, I called her. Her flatmate answered:
            "She's gone to the coast with some friends."
            "But she told me she'd call me."
            "There's no message."
            "Where on the coast?"

  She gave me the name of a village. I took long strides to the station and caught the first train to the coastal village, a can of beer in my paw. I got off and wandered round the narrow streets and had a few more beers until five hours later, I found her. I looked at her for a while - this stranger who was looking up and waving hello at some people on a balcony - before tapping her on the shoulder:
            "Hello, Montse."
Her jaw fell open in surprise. Then, in a responsible tone of voice, she said:
            "Let's talk."
We sat on a terrace. She said she didn't know what to say, before saying it. At the party on Friday, yesterday, she'd chatted for a few hours with a man for whom she'd felt a strong physical attraction, in other words she was back on the right path, she'd felt like doing it for the first time in weeks, though she hadn't actually done it, so she said. The man in question had come with her to the village, in fact he was up there on the balcony, she'd been waving up at him.
            "And I think the best thing for us would be to just stay friends."             "Who is he?"
And it turned out, inevitably, that although it could have been anyone, it just happened to be the one someone who hated me, my worst enemy, her friend, her mate.  

I looked straight into the eyes of the woman of my life, the person with whom my imagination had built an unexpected future, and I told her that she was supercilious and predictable, a grimacing spoiled little girl with the emotional depth of a window dummy, a selfish, flirty phony, a bitch, a filthy stupid faithless disgusting bitch and I left. As she stood up she asked me to my back with polite indifference if I wanted to have dinner with her that night, to talk about all this. I never saw her again.


You bet I remember. A banal story, like so many others. But I couldn't admit it was like that. For me it was as if part of the future had been stolen from me. I cried like a child lost in a funfair.

I can still see myself, floundering, unable to understand how it was that when she was on the way to becoming my right arm and I hers, the story suddenly froze and came apart with scarcely an argument. I had to find some kind of explanation, and came to the conclusion that the fault lay with the world, her world: a world of company cars, hotel beds, well-laid tables, pressed clothes, finely-upholstered aeroplanes and furry bears, in which a love affair was little more than a break between deals. The world of the end of that century, when the norm was to have lively eyes set in a face bland as water, a calculated world, full of individuals between twenty and forty years of age marching forward, forever forward, bright-eyed, their consciences clear, electric translators on their wrists and bundles of calling cards in their inside pockets. Forward! To longer and longer meetings, to ever smoother smiles behind which an easy kind of responsibility lurked, an empty entity with a pale face and bright eyes, devoid of hidden warm atypical things, that watched me as I screamed at her to take notice of me while a short shadow with a moustache turned up the volume on her Walkman to the songs about breaking up and other adult themes while her head swayed gently in time.  

The great love of my life was destined not to last long. And what more can I say of the summer, of the famous summer of love? It appeared to me then as an endless, barren season. While I thought of it, my eyes grew bright and my smile, smooth and bland. I had learnt my lesson. You bet I remember.  

[1]in Catalan: rosadenca 

[2] in English: dew  Back to place in story

© 2000 Matthew Tree

Catalan original | interview

This story  may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

navigation:                         barcelona review #17                     March - April 2000
-Fiction Rachel Resnick The Meat-Eaters of Marrakesh
Josh Wardrip Death in the Third Person
Alden Jones Shelter
Matthew Tree
Summer of Love
Marjorie Kanter Delgado The Skirt
-Interview Matthew Tree
-Article March and April in Barcelona
-Quiz Jorge Luis Borges
Answers to Federico García Lorca quiz
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