The urgency of carnal desire is one of the central themes of literature. From Song of Songs to the tedious (but bestselling) 50 Shades of Grey, desire has been a literary theme for all seasons, ranging from the subtle to the grotesque (one thinks of the juicy coitus found in texts by Bocaccio, Rabelais, Casanova, Sade, Bataille, Miller, Nin, Alina Reyes…). ‘The Woman Who Wouldn’t’ is a playful violation of the universal laws of literary desire. From the satirical (and deeply self-deprecating) pen of Jorge Ibargüengoitia, this little story is a tour de force description of a deeply flawed attempt at seduction, foiled by the incompetence of the seducer and the capriciousness of the seduced. A failure that will inevitably send a tingle of familiarity down our spines and leave a rueful smile on our lips.
I must be discreet. I don’t want to get her into trouble. I’ll call her… I have a photograph of her in my desk along with a few photographs of other people as well as a make-up-stained handkerchief I swiped from somewhere. I mean, I know who she is, but I don’t want to say, although she represents one of the peak moments of my emotional life. The photograph in question is extraordinarily good given that it’s passport sized. She’s looking at the camera with her big almond eyes, her hair pulled back to reveal those two huge ears that cling so close to her skull that I think she must have pinned them back with Scotch tape when she was a little girl to keep them out of the way. Her angular cheekbones, the little nose with the gaping nostrils and, below that… her wonderful, large, fleshy mouth. At one time, looking at the photograph brought up thoughts of a particular tenderness that developed into interior heat and ended with the movements of the flesh appropriate for such feelings. I shall call her Aurora. No, not Aurora. Not Estela either. I’ll call her “her” or “she”.
This happened a while ago, when I was younger and better looking. It was in the run-up to Christmas, and I was walking down Calle de Madero in my recently washed jeans with three hundred pesos in my pocket. It was a lovely bright day. She stepped out from the crowd and put her hand on my forearm. “Jorge,” she said. Oh, la vita è bella! We’d known each other since we used to wet the bed (each on their own side, of course), but we couldn’t have seen each other more than a dozen times since. I put my hand to her throat and kissed her. Then I saw that her mother was watching us from a few feet away. I said hello to her mother, put my hand to her throat and kissed her, too. After that the three of us went off happily for a coffee at Sanborns. At the table I put my hand on hers and squeezed until I saw her press her legs together. Her mother reminded me that her daughter was a decent girl, married with children, and that I’d had my chance thirteen years ago and had let it pass. Hearing this I tempered my initial impulse and decided not to try anything else for the moment. We left Sanborns and walked along La Alameda, past the pornographic statues, to her car, which was parked a long way away. Then she took my hand and stroked my palm with her middle finger until I had to shove my other hand into my pocket in a desperate attempt to keep my passion under control. Finally, we reached the car, and as she got in I realized that thirteen years before I had not just missed out on her legs, her wonderful mouth and her healthy, pert buttocks but also three or four million very serviceable pesos. We dropped her mother off to eat somewhere, it’s not important where. We stayed in the car, she and I alone, and I told her that I still thought about her, and she said that she still thought about me. I leaned in a little closer to her, and she warned me that she was sweaty because her job made her perspire. “I don’t care, not at all,” I said, smelling her. And I didn’t care. Then I pulled her hair, nibbled the back of her neck and pressed down on her stomach… until we crashed on the corner of Tamaulipas and Sonora.
After the accident we went to Sep de Tamaulipas to drink gin and tonics and whisper sweet nothings to each other.
The separation was tough but unavoidable because she was going to have lunch with her mother-in-law. “Will I see you again?” “Never.” “Goodbye, then.” “Goodbye.” She disappeared down Insurgentes in her powerful car, and I went to the El Pilón cantina where I drank mescal from San Luis Potosí and beer and argued about the divinity of Christ with a few friends until seven-thirty, at which point I was sick. Then I went to Bellas Artes in a clapped-out taxi.
My eyes were bleary as I stumbled into the foyer. The first thing I saw amid the sea of insignificant people, like Venus rising out of her shell, was her. She came over, smiling, and said, “Come and find me tomorrow,” at such and such a time and place then left.
Oh, sweet concupiscence of the flesh! Refuge of sinners, consolation of the sufferer, relief of the mentally infirm, amusement of the poor, recreation of the intellectual and luxury of the elderly. Thank you, Lord, for granting us the use of these parts, which make this existence in the Vale of Tears in which you have placed us more bearable!
The next day I turned up for the appointment punctually. I went into the building and found her engaged in the trade that made her sweat so copiously. She regarded me with satisfaction, proud of her skill and a little defiant, too, as though she were saying, “This is for you.” I was transfixed for half an hour, admiring each part of her body and understanding for the first time the essence of the art that she practised. When she had finished she got ready to go out, looking at me in silence. Then she took my arm in a very eloquent way. We walked down the stairs, and as we came out onto the street we were met by her fucking mother.
We went shopping with the old hag and then, once again, for a coffee at Sanborns. For two hours I had to hold something back – I’ll never know if it was a sob or a scream. The worst part was that when she and I were finally alone again she started reciting a stupid litany about how lucky and grateful to God she was that he had saved her from committing the terrible sin of adultery. I tried every desperate trick I had – a series of gropes, pokes and attempts at asphyxia-related homicide that can be very successful with some women – but it was all in vain. I got out of the car at Félix Cuevas.
I suppose that when she saw me standing forlorn on the curb she took pity on me because she opened her handbag and gave me the aforementioned photograph and said that if she ever decided to do it (commit the sin), she’d send me a telegram.
And, in fact, one month later I received not a telegram but a couriered message that read “Dear Jorge, meet me at the Konditori,” at such and such a day and time (p.m.), signed “Guess Who?” in English. I ran to the desk, took out the photograph and stared at her as I anticipated the moment when my basest instincts would be satiated.
I got someone to lend me an apartment and some money. I dressed in slightly scruffy clothes that nonetheless fitted me well, walked down Calle de Génova in the afternoon and got to the Konditori a quarter of an hour early. I looked for a discreetly placed table because I didn’t want hundreds of people to see me there, and when I found one I sat at it looking out onto the street. I ordered a coffee, lit a cigarette and waited. Immediately people I knew started to appear, but I acknowledged them so coldly that they didn’t dare come over.
Walking down Calle de Génova, N, the young woman who at one point was the Love of My Life, passed by and disappeared. I thanked God.
I started to think about how she would be dressed, and then it occurred to me that in a couple of hours I’d have her undressed and in my arms.
N passed by again, walking back up Calle de Génova, then disappeared. This time I had to cover my face with my hand because she was looking into the Konditori.
It was now the appointed hour. I was pretty nervous but ready to wait all week and more if necessary, just to have the stubborn woman all to myself.
And then the door of the Konditori opened, N, the Love of My Life, came in, walked across the restaurant and sat down in front of me with a smile. She asked, “Did you guess right?”
I laughed. I laughed for such a long time that N became uncomfortable. Then I got a hold of myself. We talked pleasantly for a while, and finally I walked her to where her friends were waiting for her to go to the cinema.
She had moved to another part of the country with her husband and children.
On one occasion I had to go to the city where she lived on business. When I’d finished what I had to do on the first day I looked up her number in the telephone directory and called. She was very happy to hear my voice and invited me to dinner.
The door had a knocker and opened by pulling a cord. As I came into the hall I saw her standing at the top of a staircase, dressed in very tight green pants that contained the best of her personality. As I went up the stairs we looked at each other, smiling, without saying a word. When I got to her, she spread her arms, wrapped them around my neck and kissed me. Then she took my hand and, as I looked at her stupidly, led me across the patio to the living room and there, on a couch, we kissed two or three hundred times… until her kids came back from the playground. Then we went to feed the rabbits.
One of the boys, who had an Oedipus complex, would snarl at me whenever I got close to her, shouting, “She’s mine!” Then, with a truly irritating degree of brazenness, he opened up her shirt and played with his mother’s breasts while she looked at me in amusement. After I’d suffered for what seemed like ages the children went to bed and she and I went to the kitchen to make dinner. When she opened the refrigerator I commenced my second offensive, which was looking very promising when her husband came home. He gave me a glass of Batey rum and took me into the living room, where we chatted about some crap or other. Finally, dinner was ready. The three of us sat at the table, and as we were drinking coffee the phone rang. The husband got up to answer it. While he was gone she got up to clear away the dishes, and I took her hand and kissed her palm, achieving with this simple gesture a far greater effect than I had anticipated: she stumbled out of the dining room, swaying amid a clatter of dirty dishes. Then the husband came back into the room putting on his jacket and explained that the phone call was from the transport depot, informing him that they’d just received a .38-calibre Smith & Wesson that his brother had sent from Mexico City along with something else that I don’t remember. He had to collect the gun right away, but I was to make myself at home – the rum was here, the record player was in the next room and his wife was over there. He’d be back in a quarter of an hour. Exit the husband. He went out into the street, I went to the kitchen and while he was starting the car I was chasing his wife. When I had her cornered she said, “Wait,” and took me into the living room. She served two glasses of rum, dropped an ice cube into each, went to the record player, turned it on and put on a record called Le Sacre du Sauvage. As the music started to play, we toasted. Four minutes had passed. Then she started to dance, alone. “This is for you,” she said. I watched while I calculated where her husband would be on his journey carrying his deadly .38 Smith & Wesson. She danced and danced. She danced through an entire record by Chet Baker. Three quarters of an hour had passed since her husband had left, and she hadn’t tired, and I hadn’t dared to try anything. After those three quarters of an hour I decided that, Smith & Wesson or no, I wasn’t remotely scared of the husband. I got up from my seat, went over to where she was dancing like a woman possessed and, with a strength I didn’t know I had, lifted her up and threw her onto the couch. She loved that. I leaped on her like a tiger, and, as we kissed passionately, I felt around for the zip on her trousers. I found it, pulled… and shit! It wouldn’t come down! It never came down. We struggled, first me, then her and finally the two of us together, but her husband came back before we could get it down. We were panting and sweating but fully clothed and had no need to explain ourselves.
Perhaps I might have been able to come back the next day to finish what we’d begun, or the next, or the next, or any of the thousand and something days that have passed since then. But, for one reason or another, I never did. I haven’t seen her since. Now all I have is the photograph in my desk drawer and the thought that (as with all the great seducers of history) the sum of the women I have never had is greater than grains of sand on the sea-bed.