General Motors

She never had dinner. Through the wide open windows looking out on the lake the other guests of the Dino Hotel, dining on the first floor, saw her sitting at the pool. She was reading, she always kept on reading. She didn’t even pay attention when a lady in the dining room, Esmeralda, deliberately dropped a spoon, through the window, onto the tiled floor skirting the lawns. It made a clattering noise. Esmeralda laughed, shrill as the light of the failing day, her voice reedy. Then, noticing the woman at the pool didn’t budge, she dropped a knife too. It fell on the grass, without any sound at all. She threw both hands in the air, crying; her husband, Edward, put his fingers on her arm. The windows were being shut. In the distance thunder rolled.

It started raining. Still the woman at the pool kept on reading. The rain wetted the black leather suit she was wearing; now women in cocktail dresses showed up at the dining room’s windows, and men in tuxedo, pointing at her. Edward, wearing a double breasted suit, said it was War and Peace by Tolstoy she was reading; in the afternoon he had silently crawled over the lawns till he was behind her, he had peeked under her arm, seen the cover. “Splendid. Now we all know what she’s reading,” his wife said. She put her nose against the window glass. Everybody did. Fine little streams, rainwater, ran from the woman’s shoulders between her breasts down to her navel and then almost horizontally filling up the creases in the leather suit, finally dripping onto the grass. “She’s too stout for a suit like that,” Esmeralda said.

At night the raining stopped. “She’s still reading,” Esmeralda, standing on the balcony, said to her husband, who was lying on top of the sheets. The night was hot and damp. “Come over here,” Edward answered, “it’s three o’clock.” “Doesn’t she ever sleep?” the wife answered. “It’s been four days now. It’s annoying.” “When the book is finished she’ll leave,” he said. “She’s such a slow reader,” his wife, putting away the telescope, answered.

The fifth day they were all sunbathing around the pool. The leather suit was steaming hot, it seemed like it was melting. The lady’s head was red all over. “She’s sweating like a cow,” Esmeralda said, her voice loud enough for the lady to hear. “The fifth day it is, and we still don’t even know her name, do you think that’s normal?” Edward put his hand on her underarm. “Wait until she’s finished the book, darling,” he said. Suddenly a man stepped out of the pool; nobody had ever seen him before. He put his goggles upon his head, and stepped towards the lady in the black suit. He gently took away her book and put his hand on her forehead. “You’re hot,” he said. The lady smiled, gratefully. “Yes,” she said, “I am.” She pointed at the suit. “I understand,” he said. “I work for General Motors.”

It happened to be the tyre division. 
     “I’ve noticed your perfume the first time I passed by,” he said, his heart sinking. “Five days ago.”
     “Oh…,” she whispered, then tapping his nose with her index. “Smell.”
     “The new Continental XR-48,” he said, “with anti-slip protection. Best tyre in the world.” She saw his Adam’s apple move.
     “You’re my hero,” she answered, gleaming, snapping the book shut.
     They stood up, walked towards the pool, took a run and disappeared into the closing water, not to emerge ever again.

(Painting by Paula Rego, fragment of The Dance, 1988.)

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