The Tannhäuser girl

Take the Taylor Swift girls, just to give an example. They were, in a certain way, obvious. Not that one could simply address them, oh no. If he would have, say, been walking through the desert at night, trying to light a cigarette because it’s getting cold, the desert can be pretty cold at night, and his lighter ceased working, and a Taylor Swift girl would be passing by, with a lighter, fluttering skirt, long legs, that kind of girl, smoking, long waving platina hair, exhaling warm breath into the cold desert sky, he would never have had the nerve to ask for a light. Never. With every move they made, Swift girls’ bodies were shouting: leave me alone, don’t ask me anything, don’t call us, if we’re looking for a stalker we’ll call you.
     Or they would simply say: “Give me a break.” and then start staring at you with their long lashes, until you’d crumple, disappearing into the floor.
     The Béyoncé ones were even worse, much worse. About them he didn’t even want to talk.

And then you had the Tannhäuser girls. A Tannhäuser girl wore stiff skirts an inch or five under the knee, or, put otherwise, two inches above medium length, white stockings they pulled up as if they were paid to do so by Elasticity Testing Inc. And they wore glasses. He would never marry a Tannhäuser girl. Never ever. So, as all the other girls passing by seemed to be Béyoncé or Taylor Swift girls, he would stay alone, until he was very old and died.

He knew all this because seven years ago he had finished his studies in econometrics, and got a job in the national statistics agency. They knew everything. It was put in charts. They went hundreds of years back. They stood stocked at the minus two level. Shortly they had begun putting them on digital carrier. He had, actually. Yes, from 9 to 5, sitting behind his desk, he was translating age-old wisdom into digital charts.
     That’s where, a certain morning, he met Belinda. She walked into his office, took a Macbook Air out of a calf leather bag, and a chair, sat down at the other side of his desk, and started tapping away. In the seven years he had been working at the service nobody had ever sat down at the other side of his desk. He had thought, from the beginning, the desk would have been exclusively his. And now this. He sat all morning wondering how he was supposed to conceive this case. Sooner or later he would have to take position. Deal with it. But how? Maybe the girl’s arrival had been discussed in the course of the department’s meeting they’d had, last week. He had dozed off after the third agenda, so maybe he had missed out on some topics, amongst which: this girl, actually sitting at the other end of his table.
     Scarcely seated she had, while putting down her laptop, moved some of his papers, without asking. Slightly - but still: she had moved them. She had even touched one of his pens. He had been looking at the pen for a couple of seconds, wide-eyed, but she didn’t even seem to notice. After half an hour she had stopped tapping away for a second or two, saying: “Yes. Yes, yes.” In order to venture a step in her direction, and eventually make friends, he had nodded, and smiled. He was no difficult character. Not at all. But this too she had ignored. That was the exact moment when he decided to classify her as a Taylor Swift girl. She didn’t wear glasses, after all. So his strategy was clear: he wouldn’t say a word. Not for hours. He knew a wrong opening address could mean disaster. After all he didn’t know what this girl was doing here, nor how long he would be compelled to tolerate her.

“Lunch?” she asked when the clock had beaten twelve. So they went for lunch.

They had a table next to a counter with a loud bell. Every time a guest left and paid, the bell gave a loud ‘TANG’.
     “It reminds me of Wagner,” she said. 
     “Wagner?” he asked. “Any specific…”
     “Tannhäuser,” she said.
     “If you think I…,” he started, but the sound of his words got lost in the bubbling of the foam she was sucking with a straw. She’d ordered a Coke Zero.

She didn’t wear glasses though. Never. He tested this. When the waiter came he said – while pushing the menu in her direction - he wasn’t able to read the small writings at the bottom (which was a lie: he could read them very well). Without the slightest hesitation she read everything aloud. Also the prices, printed in an even tinier corpse: ‘amuse-gueules 25 euros per person’. It wasn’t what a Tannhäuser girl was supposed to do, without glasses. That’s when he must have fallen in love with her.
     When she went to the toilet she walked like Moses splitting the Red Sea. Off her right calf her white stocking showed a big oval hole.

One year after they married Belinda gave birth to a set of quadruplets, called Deborah, Deirdre, Dozy and Diana. Diana and Dozy won the doubles at Roland Garros in 2042. The same year Deborah was elected Miss Universe.
     Deirdre died when that comet struck Trafalgar Square in 2044.

(Painting 'The Family', by Paula Rego, 1988.)

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