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Authors: Joanna Trollope

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BOOK: A Spanish Lover
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‘Dreadful.'

‘You do not like the Spanish atmosphere?'

‘I do not like the cold bath water nor the ugliness nor the lack of service nor the Spanish atmosphere.'

He gazed at her.

‘I have offended you.'

She picked up the menu again and glared at it.

‘You have made me feel that I have come a long
way
for nothing when I might have been spending Christmas in England with my family.'

There was a silence. Frances read the menu. She was not going to look at her phrase book, with José Gómez Moreno regarding her like a kicked dog, so she stared uncomprehendingly at words like
chorizo
and
anguilas
, and tried not to think of family supper in the kitchen at the Grange, with Davy allowed to stay up for the first course, drowsy in his pyjamas.

‘Tomorrow,' José said soberly, ‘all will change.'

Frances said nothing.

‘Tomorrow, I move some of the party from Oviedo into the Hotel Toro, and you will have the room my father instructed.'

She glanced at him. His eyes were cast down.

‘When tomorrow?'

‘By midday.'

‘Your midday or my midday?'

‘Please?'

‘Punctual English time or unpunctual Spanish time?'

He straightened his shoulders.

‘I come to the Hotel Toro at midday, as it strikes from the cathedral, and take you to our
posada
.'

She looked at him. He was trying a smile out on her, a hopeful, boyish, pleading smile.

‘You promise?'

He nodded. His smile grew more confident. He even gave the merest wink.

‘Otherwise my father will kill me.'

4

FRANCES SLEPT BADLY
. Her bed was hard as well as narrow and there seemed to be no way to get warm. Soon after she had gone to bed, the occupants of the next room spent a long time running taps and pulling plugs, causing the pipes in the communicating wall to bang and gurgle. At three in the morning, someone in metal-heeled shoes went down the tiled corridor outside singing an unsteady song in German, and shortly after five, a party of municipal workers in the alley below threw a few dustbins about and brushed at the cobbles with twig brooms and a sound like hissing snakes. At six-forty, the people next door went back into their bathroom to begin on more water games, and Frances crawled groaning out of bed, and climbed into her makeshift plastic shower cubicle, to stand with her eyes shut under the lukewarm trickle.

A different receptionist – a busty girl with luxuriant dark hair and lipstick the colour of black-cherry jam – said that breakfast was not served until eight.

‘Then I will just have some coffee, brought here, please.'

‘It is not possible until eight, madam.'

Frances held on to the edge of the reception desk.

‘Where,' she said, spacing her words out in an effort not to smack the cherry-lipped girl, ‘can I get a cup of coffee in Seville before seven in the morning?'

The girl looked at her.

‘At the bar in the next
pasaje
.'

‘The El Nido?'

‘Yes,' the girl said.

Frances went out into the alley. High above her shone the kind of blue sky familiar from skiing-holiday advertisements, clear, strong, delphinium-blue sky without a single cloud. There was a sharp wind, too, and a distinct bite to the air. Frances turned up her mackintosh collar and longed for the dark-blue overcoat she had rejected as too heavy for Spain, even in winter, and left hanging in London, an unoriginal coat, but a warm and faithful friend.

The Bar El Nido was only half awake. A skinny, haggard waiter was sweeping the floor of last night's cigarette butts, and another one yawned behind a coffee machine. Two men in workmen's clothes leaned against the bar with newspapers and glasses of brandy, and the walls were covered with posters for bull fights and for football matches. Frances seemed to be the only woman there.

She went up to the bar and asked in careful, Anglicized Spanish for coffee and bread and orange juice. She was given exactly that. She asked for butter. She was handed a single minute rectangle wrapped in gold paper.

‘And jam?
¿Mermelada?
'

The waiter produced a tiny foil pot of apricot jam, made in Switzerland.

‘
¿Mermelada de Sevilla?
' Frances said. ‘
¿De naranja?
'

‘No,' said the waiter, and went back to his coffee machine.

Frances carried her breakfast to a little glass-topped table in the window. She felt more weary than hungry, more in need of the comfort of food than its sustenance. She picked up her coffee cup and held it, for warmth, in her hands.

She took a mouthful. The coffee was bitter, flavoured with chicory. Her eyes were sore, and despite her
shower
, she felt travel-weary and much rumpled, as she used to feel on the occasions in Italy when she had been stranded for the night and had slept in her car. She wondered if she had, in fact, any inclination at all to trouble to give Seville a second chance, even with the prospect of being made more comfortable by lunchtime. She stared out of the window. A stout young woman went by, in patent-leather shoes and a thick black coat, holding the hands of two sober small children, dressed like miniature adults. Were they going to church? Or going to see Granny? Or even going to the dentist? Once, and only once, Frances had taken Sam to the dentist, and Sam had bitten him, hard enough to draw blood.

‘You little bugger,' the dentist had said, startled out of his polite professionalism.

Those good little Sevillians would never bite anybody, Frances thought, those good little Catholic children. She tried to put herself in the stout mother's place, holding those neatly gloved little hands.

‘Come along, María, come along, Carlos, don't dawdle—'

It didn't work, she couldn't convince herself. Those children were inescapably Spanish, utterly foreign. Frances wondered what their father was like: a lawyer perhaps, or a doctor, a smallish, solid man to match his wife, anxious to keep his children safe from the alarming liberalism sweeping Spain.

‘Drugs, sex,' José Gómez Moreno had said last night over tough little roasted partridges. ‘They are everywhere in Spain now. Sevilla is very bad for drugs. Parents are all the time afraid for their children. The television sex shows,' he said, his eyes gleaming, ‘are
terrible
.'

He had talked a good deal about his father. He assured Frances that she would be quite amazed by the beautiful English his father spoke, ‘English,' said José,
‘just
like an English person, no difference'. He said his father was a businessman and that the hotels were only one of his interests, and that he had lived apart from José's mother for fifteen years, and that this fact had made both the grandmothers angry and disapproving.

‘They are strict Catholics, you see. Me – I can take religion or leave it. My generation can't be bothered.'

‘And your father?'

‘He never speaks of religion. He doesn't like to be serious. Have you a boyfriend?'

‘No,' said Frances, ‘
if
it's any of your business.'

He had laughed. He had recovered his equilibrium once and wasn't going to lose it again in a hurry, so he refrained from paying Frances fulsome compliments like how a beautiful woman like you should never, etc. etc. Just as well, Frances thought now, spreading butter and jam on her papery Spanish roll, or I might really have flipped. People never seem to use their imaginations, when dealing with those of us who aren't part of a couple, they never seem to display a quarter of the sensitivity when dealing with you that they simply
demand
when you are dealing with them. You get used to this in a way, just as you get used to singleness and to not being essential to someone and to both the pleasures and pains of not having someone else to take into account – you get used to it, but you still hate being asked about it. It makes you think about it, all over again, it makes you start to wonder … She bit her roll. Barbara's theory was, of course, that Frances couldn't sustain a wholehearted relationship because she was the weaker half of a pair of twins, but Frances was long used to her mother's theories and told herself she wasn't much inclined to believe them. And yet, she hadn't ever had a wholehearted relationship with a man, had she? She had fallen heavily for several men, in a desperate, almost headlong way, but she had never felt satisfied, in bed or out of it, by any of
them
once the fervour of the first stage was over. Always, it seemed, she would begin to withdraw, disappointed and empty-handed, just as the man was beginning to think that there might indeed be something more than met the eye to this tall girl in her conventional clothes with her funny little travel business and her oddly impersonal flat. But it would be too late then, he would have mistimed his interest, missed the emotional boat, and Frances would have gone, drifting back into her singleness, sadly but unavoidably. So weird, Frances told herself, when I know that I'm a loving person, that I like loving and being loved. Don't I? Or am I just very short on self-knowledge and very long on self-delusion? Could Mum be even partly right? Could it be, really and in physiological fact, that Lizzie has all the emotional, sensual and reproductive instincts that should by rights have been shared out between us?

Frances finished her roll and her coffee, and wiped her mouth on a tiny, slippery paper napkin. She stood up. She would do, she thought, what she always did on trips abroad, which was to start with the church or cathedral of any town or city, and work outwards. She went over to the bar to pay for her breakfast. The waiter, eyes half closed against the smoke rising from the cigarette in his mouth, was drying glasses. He didn't look at her. She laid exactly the right number of pesetas down on the bar with emphasis – ‘No tip,' she said to him in English, ‘because there was no service' – and walked out of last night's atmosphere into the new morning's sharp, cold air.

It was, she remembered, Christmas Eve. It was impossible, somehow, to feel this emotionally, despite the cold. Stuck as she was in the middle of an elaborate and undignified mistake, the day didn't feel like anything, it simply felt like an odd foreign day, familiar, in its oddness, to many similar foreign days in
Frances's
past. She thought of Langworth. The house would shortly be in uproar, the kitchen strewn with bowls of turkey stuffing and piles of vegetable peelings, the house with the litter left by the children's robust and chaotic approach to Christmas decoration. In the midst of it, pipe in mouth, serenely absorbed in a crossword or in one of Alistair's endless models, William would be the still centre in the eye of the storm. Frances thought suddenly how nice it would be to have William with her now, impenetrably English in these Spanish streets, gently amazed by the otherness of it all.

‘Extraordinary building,' she could hear him say of the cathedral. ‘Perfectly extraordinary. Now who do you suppose admires it?'

Frances couldn't think if she did or not, it was too peculiar at first glance. She paused at a newspaper kiosk – its upper shelves stuffed with pornographic magazines – and bought a guide book to the cathedral, a small, thick guide book printed on shiny paper. ‘All you need to know', said the title page, ‘about the Cathedral of Seville and the Monastery of St Isidoro del Campo.'

Frances twitched her bag on to her shoulder and risked another glance at her goal. She stood across the street from its western façade, and gazed at it across Seville's swirling traffic. It was simply enormous, and very complicated, Gothic and flamboyant. Behind it, there appeared to be – could there be? – a minaret. Frances opened her guide book.

‘In this cathedral are many beautiful doors, the Market Door, the St Christopher Door, the Door of the Bells, the Door of the Sticks, the Door of Forgiveness, the Door—'

Frances shut the guide book, and put it in her mackintosh pocket. Perhaps, like some Italian cathedrals, a forbidding, or even hideous, exterior would give way
to
treasures within. This was not hideous, but it was startling, so vast, so complex, so grand, so – so bragging, Frances thought, that it made one feel apprehensive. Still, there wasn't much point in standing shivering on the opposite pavement, feeling daunted before one had even begun. She remembered doing that once in front of Parma Cathedral, thinking: What a horror, just like a factory, and nearly, very nearly, bypassing it for a Campari and soda in the nearest bar, and then, driven by her decently cultural conscience, going in reluctantly and being enchanted. There was a painting of the Assumption by Correggio in Parma, full of cherubs tossing flowers about. It didn't look, from the outside at least, as if Seville Cathedral was the sort of place where anyone, even a defiant cherub, would dare to chuck flowers around.

The thing about southern European traffic, Frances had learned long ago, was to confront it. Northern principles of orderly obedience to red and green lights were pointless, because nobody south of Paris took any notice of them at all. The answer was to turn yourself into a confident pedestrian presence, striding out, as tall as possible, even, if necessary, holding out a commanding hand in a stop-attitude as traffic rushed at you like a pack of mad dogs. It upset Italian traffic policemen, behaving like this, but, in Frances's view, they were too easily upset anyhow. No doubt being isolated in foolish little comic-opera castles from which they flapped their white-gloved hands and impotently blew whistles at racing tides of impervious Fiats accounted for it. She would discover if Spanish policemen were the same. She turned up her mackintosh collar more resolutely, put her chin up and marched across the Avenida de la Constitución.

On the far side, an old man seized her. Jabber, he said to her in lightning, incomprehensible Spanish. Jabber, jabber, jabber. He pointed at the traffic, at
Frances
, at the well-behaved clump of people waiting on the pavement corner of the Plaza del Triunfo, he rolled his eyes to heaven, he crossed himself.

BOOK: A Spanish Lover
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