On the Plaza de los Charcos Luminosos. 1. The Fish in the Plaza
On the Plaza de los Charcos Luminosos
1. The Fish in the Plaza
(an earnest tale)
by Geoffrey Skinner
The woman sat in the yellow chair at the small blue plastic table. The man was on the opposite side. They were sitting at the same one they always occupied. The day was hot, but the awning overhead shielded them from the blazing sun. The shops were all closed and the couple were alone on the plaza.
The man was watching her, his face expressionless. She waited for him to offer her a ride. He would offer one if she waited long enough. She gave him a look he wouldn’t want to resist. He turned away, but he couldn’t refuse that look.
“Don’t worry. I’ll drive you.”
“I think that’s a fine idea.”
“Will it make you happy?”
“Yes, but when are you going to be here?”
The man gazed at the small glass of carrot juice on the blue table. He took a bite of his pomegranate. He ate it like an apple, without bothering to split the thick skin or pick out the ruby seeds. The bright red juice dribbled down his chin.
“Did you hear me?”
“Sure, I did.”
The man wiped his chin with his cuff and looked toward the clock crowning the tower on the other side of the plaza.
“Seven. Why do you need a ride again?”
“I don’t want to ruin my dress.”
“What dress? All I see is your black cummerbund and that gray sock on your left hand.”
The woman stared across the sweltering asphalt of the plaza. Shimmering pools glinted in the distance.
“My beautiful long white dress. I don’t want to walk through the pools--the water’ll ruin it. I want to go away, not just go fishing again.”
“Don’t be so blind.”
“You should wear your red dress more often, if we’re going to talk about dresses.”
“Red? I only own white ones.”
“I’ve never seen you in a white dress. You ought to put on your red one before I pick you up tonight. And your black stiletto heels.”
“Look at me straight, Kit. Tell me what I’m wearing today.”
The man’s face was a mask and his eyes dark. He took another bite of the fruit.
“This is an excellent pomegranate.”
“Who cares about the pomegranate?”
“I do. They give me a certain peace of mind that feels just fine at a time like this.”
“Take me out of the plaza.”
“I said I would, didn’t I? I’ll be here at seven.”
The woman played with her hair, wrapping a few strands around her finger.
The man drummed his fingers on the table. “I want you in your red dress and heels tonight. I don’t want to take you out dressed like this.”
“You think I look terrible, don’t you?”
“I can’t tell you how goddamn fine you look.”
“So I really do look good? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
“You look swell.”
“You should be glad I know how to dress well. Not every man is so lucky.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it. Neither does dressing well.”
They sat at the blue plastic table in silence for a few more minutes. Then the man jumped up, tipping his chair over.
“It’s time for me to leave.”
He grinned. It was the first time he’d smiled all afternoon.
“You don’t need to go so soon, do you?”
“It’s late already.”
He dashed around the corner and out of sight. He hadn’t looked back.
He seemed so happy, the woman thought. How can he be happy when he left half a pomegranate on the table?
The woman looked at the time. The clock, with its bold, black numbers that could be read from across the plaza, showed that several hours would pass before the man reappeared with his big black car. She wondered if he would really come back for her. She hoped so; she knew she could be ready at seven. It would be better than another evening wasted fishing. The fishing was lousy anyway and good pools hard to find.
The woman remembered the first time she saw the big black car. It was a day like this one when shimmering pools lay on the asphalt. She wore a different dress, but it was also long, white and beautiful. She was walking toward the clock tower. The car, an old roadster, rumbled into the plaza and stopped in front of her, blocking her path. The driver looked dangerous as he slouched in his seat. He looked like a man who would order eggs and bacon for breakfast; substitute broccoli for the bacon and finish with a carrot juice chaser.
She strolled over to the car. She ran her fingers over the shiny black fender. The metal was almost hot enough to burn.
“It takes me where I want to go,” the driver said.
“What is it?”
“A 1948 Anis de Toro.“
“What kind of car is that? I’ve never heard of an Anis de Toro.“
“That’s what it is. It’s Spanish.”
The throaty rumble of the engine suddenly grew to a roar. She knew he was trying to impress her. She laughed. The roar dropped back to a rumble.
“You’re a good-looking woman, you know that? I always stop for women in smoking jackets.”
“Too bad I left it at home.”
The man’s mouth twitched. “The name’s Kit, by the way.”
“And mine’s Lily.” She looked at him, trying to figure him out.
He reached over to push open the door. “Why don’t I show you what a fine car this is?”
When she looked in, she saw stains mottling the seat upholstery. “Sure, I’ll let you show me your car, but I don’t want to sit on that seat. I prefer the hood.”
The man didn’t say anything. He gunned the engine again. She stepped up on the front bumper and sat down on the hood with one leg on the left front fender. He slammed the door closed. The car jerked forward and she nearly fell off. She twisted around, desperately grasping for a handhold. She managed to grab hold of the sides of the windshield and stop herself from sliding.
They reached the edge of the plaza. The car skidded to a halt. The man stuck his head out the window. “I can’t see.”
“Look around me.”
“You’re blocking the whole windshield.”
“Use your window.”
The car jerked forward again. Her face pressed against the windshield as she struggled to hold on. She could see him through the glass. He grimaced and looked away. He put his head out the window.
They sped down the broad boulevard that stretched north away from the plaza, then skidded to another stop after a mile or so. She barely kept her grip.
“Can’t you sit on the roof?” the man yelled from the window, “Or on the trunk?”
“I like it here.”
“You’re distracting me.”
“I’m not moving. You can see well enough. We haven’t had an accident yet.”
“It’s just a matter of time.”
“I’m not going anywhere. And I’ll never set foot inside your car, Kit.”
“Sure, you won’t.”
A horn blasted from behind them. The big black car roared forward and the woman hugged the edges of the windshield. The man made no more stops and she stayed on the hood. She knew that even if he didn’t like it, now the matter was settled; he might protest, but she wouldn’t move.
As the woman thought about that first time in the big black car, she shivered despite the heat, remembering his eyes. They had been as unfathomable as the pools in the distance.
The woman looked out at the empty plaza. The stonework of the buildings surrounding the plaza was dirty and chipped. The small church at the far end was missing several stones from its façade. “This is a hell of place,” the woman said out loud. She finished the rest of the man’s juice and dropped the empty glass on the table. She wished she had more, but getting it was too much trouble without him here. She could barely move because of the heat, so she remained in the yellow chair under the awning.
The afternoon was dragging on. The woman counted the minutes to make the time go more quickly. There were so many to count that she imagined them as small flies buzzing around her and getting caught in the orange bow on her white dress. She found herself vaguely waving them away.
The air was very still and the only noise was the buzzing of the flies. Once the woman thought she heard a voice at the edge of the plaza. She briefly hoped she wouldn’t be alone, but the voice faded and no one walked into sight.
The woman thought about bullfighting. She wished she could be running the streets of Pamplona instead of sitting under the pink awning, waving away flies. But the man wouldn’t be so willing to give her a ride, there in Pamplona. The crowds would be too thick and the bulls too dangerous. She wouldn’t see his car again. She wouldn’t see the look in his eyes that reminded her of the distant pools. She remembered how fine it was to be with him. Especially with his big black car and unfathomable look.
The flies buzzed lazily over the table. They seemed to be getting worse.
“Kit! The flies are bad here.” She stood up, knocking the table over. The pomegranate and the glass fell to the ground. The glass did not shatter, but the pomegranate split open and three pieces skittered across the pavement. The glass rolled a few feet and stopped.
She waited for an answer. None came. The woman looked around. The hands on the clock hadn’t moved very far since the last time she’d checked. It would still be a long time until he would arrive again. No wonder he hadn’t answered.
The woman sat down again. She couldn’t bear the effort of picking up the table, the chair, the glass and the remains of the pomegranate. She left them where they had fallen.
The white dress was stained with red pomegranate juice. The man had been sitting too close to her. Damn these little tables, she thought. They’re too small for civilized people to sit at.
The woman noticed that her bow was dark with flies. She didn’t mind. Black went better with the white dress than orange. The pattern was more interesting, too. It almost matched the pattern of pomegranate stains. She felt very stylish.
If the man didn’t come, maybe she would go fishing after all. She saw the fish glinting and flashing in the pools out on the asphalt. They were eating flies by the score. She wondered if the flies would get worse if she caught some of the fish. He would come soon. The flies were bad enough; she didn’t need to make them any worse.
A large dark car cruised into the plaza. It rumbled to a stop in front of her. The woman felt angry at it for blocking her view and scaring the fish. Then she saw the driver slouching behind the wheel, his eyes dark and hooded as he looked at her through the open window.
It was him.
“You came back.”
“Of course. I made a promise. I don’t like breaking promises.”
“Come over here.” The woman picked up the remains of the pomegranate and cradled them in her hands. “You left something behind.”
“What is it?”
“Come over and see.”
The man didn’t get out of the car.
“You should clean up. You’ve got red juice all over yourself.”
“I look pretty, don’t I, Kit? See? A red dress, just like you wanted. It needed more color.” She smoothed out the wrinkles with her hands and straightened the black-flecked orange bow. “I’m ready for an evening on the town.”
“I don’t know why you keep on about that dress. I don’t see any dress. You’re wearing the same things you had on this afternoon. I can’t even look at you. I’m surprised no one complained.”
“I don’t know why anyone would. The place was empty today, anyway. Come over and see what I have for you.”
The man didn’t answer.
“What’s the matter? Are you afraid? Don’t I always give things back when you leave them behind?”
He turned back to face her. He was frowning and his eyes were very dark. “You never give things back.”
“Of course I do. Come see.”
He didn’t move.
He looks like he might pull out his fishing pole from the back and head the other way, thought the woman. I don’t want him to go. I’ll be stuck here with the flies and the fish. And he’ll have the fishing pole.
“It’s too late in the day for this,” he said. “Just leave it on the chair. Maybe you can do something with the cummerbund and the sock to cover yourself up a little.”
“I’m plenty decent.”
“People will think we’re putting on some goddamned show. They’re going to stare.”
“Don’t they always? It’s because I’m good-looking. Simple as that.”
“There’s nothing simple about it. I don’t even know how I’ll drive with you distracting me.”
“What’s so distracting about a white dress? You’ll do fine, just like you always do.”
“It’s too late to argue about it. Just cover up a little better when we go. Are you ready, yet?”
“Got the juice? I need more. Then I’ll be ready.”
“Make it quick. You know where I keep it.”
The woman let the pomegranate drop to the pavement. She walked to the car and forced herself to open the door. The man never went anywhere without a supply of fresh carrot juice under the seat. She grimaced when her hand brushed the edge of the stained seat as she searched for the flask.
The man waited for her to find it. When she pulled the bottle out, he reached into the glove compartment and brought out a single shot glass. He handed her the glass. It was dirty, but she didn’t care. She liked it that way.
She poured herself a shot. She lifted the glass to her lips and threw back her head. Some of the juice ran down her chin and dripped onto her dress. It was a fine feeling. The juice would add a nice color to the stains already on the dress.
“Yes, I’m ready now.” She shoved the flask back under the seat. She slammed the door shut and walked around to the front of the big black car. She stepped up on the bumper. She took her place on the hood and reached for the handles on either side of the windshield that he had attached. He can be so thoughtful sometimes, she thought. I never had to ask him to put those handles on his car.
She glanced at the clock and the pools and the fish for a last time. The man gunned the engine. They roared out of the plaza.
They were gone. The plaza lay empty. The remains of the pomegranate were scattered by the overturned table under the pink awning. The clock struck half past seven. The fish weren’t playing in the distant pools any more and the flies had stopped buzzing lazily around the table. The woman might be back some time. The fishing would be better then and the flies gone. She wouldn’t be able to stay away from the blue table under the pink awning where she could watch the fish in the distant pools. The fish were sure to call to her and they would be ready to give her the look she wouldn’t want to resist. She would return.
©1995-1997 Geoffrey Skinner