Eighteen minutes into dinner at the Mexican restaurant and Mrs. Salat is so bored out of her mind she decides to do a couple of things to ensure she survives the time remaining: she will sink one margarita after another and imagine her husband isn’t her husband. From now on Mr. Crespí is her husband and not Mr. Salat. She likes Mr. Crespí. He’s not her hubby.
The passage of time becomes more bearable. After each margarita, she feels more optimistic and by number twenty the earth is one big soft cheese, Mr. Crespí is her husband, hangovers never were, and Mr. Salat ceases to annoy. From now on, Mr. Salat is Mrs. Crespí’s husband, and she no longer has to feel responsible for what he says or does. Or be embarrassed he gets so petulant when tasting the wine (he ordered wine). She couldn’t care less if he takes ages to finish his food because he likes to rabbit on so. Or soils his napkin or asks the waiter what’s in each dish, even the guacamole, and whether it’s very piquant. Or is always saying he’s got another story to tell. Or if he says: “I shall now tell you all something you will find hugely amusing.” She’s now Crespí’s wife, and he behaves perfectly. She imagines how she and Crespí will go home after the dinner. They’ll go to bed. He’ll strip off without more ado and grab the box of contraceptives, maybe after asking where it is. She looks forward to the moment he’ll peel it on. She knows, from Mrs. Crespí, that he’s always in the mood.
When they bid farewell, she concludes, happily, that she’s not been half as bored as she usually is, and that nobody gets drunk on margaritas. The two men shake hands energetically and say they must do this more often. The women kiss on the cheek and promise it won’t be so long to the next time the foursome dines out. But Crespí puts his arm round her shoulder and doesn’t bid farewell. Mr. Salat, her husband, is the one to bid farewell. He gives her a couple of pecks as if she weren’t his wife.
“Shall we be off?” asks Mr. Crespí.
And as a taxi is already drawing up, he opens the door and in she goes, quite terrified. Perhaps she’s quite tipsy but it hasn’t got to her yet. Or perhaps the other three are having fun at her expense. She sits down and lets Crespí indicate their destination. The taxi driver signals, moves into the right-hand lane, and advances slowly toward the traffic light that is on red. It’s not cold and nothing looks any different. In an ATM foyer a group of Pakistani flower sellers are crouching in prayer. Their faces turn to the show ads; their rears point to the ATM. They’ve put their flowers on the ground.
“The Salats are so tiresome,” Mr. Crespí complains. “He’s appalling. Did you see how he spin-dried the wine?”
“Yes,” mutters Mrs. Salat.
No doubt about it. She is his wife now.
She knows the Crespís’ place, but not like her own home. She’s never been inside the couple’s bedroom, only seen it from the outside, but she doesn’t make a single wrong move. She undresses and puts her things in the right place. She gets into bed and knows which side is hers. Mr. Crespí comes right away and also gets undressed. He scratches his testicles and sniffs his armpits. (Mrs. Crespí had complained to her endlessly about this behavior.)
Once he’s in bed, she climbs on top of him and nibbles his ear. She’s so hungry for it! She’s not thought of anything else the whole night. He gets an immediate hard-on and grabs her tits. She yelps, taken aback.
When they finish, he’s almost in tears. He confesses he’s not known her so up for it in years. That she’s acted like a nymphomaniac (words of praise in his book). Indeed, until now he’d always thought she was frigid.
“I’m ovulating,” she apologizes. And kisses him on his Adam’s apple. She picks up the book on the night table, the one Mrs. Crespí was reading, and opens it up at the right page. She instantly recalls the plot.
In the morning she puts on the apple-green underpants and bra she finds in a drawer. She selects a tartan skirt and white blouse. Then has a re-think. Hell! She’ll put on that designer dress, the one Mrs. Crespí keeps for grand occasions. The face creams she finds in the bathroom are also more expensive than hers, and she decides to apply them generously. And she likes the job she has now a lot more. As Mrs. Salat, she worked in a mobile-phone shop. Now, in her new skin, she’s a secretary in a market-research firm.
Neither the porter nor colleagues on her floor look surprised to see her. They sing the praises of her dress. She’s Mr. Crespí’s wife, in everyone’s eyes, and perhaps will be forever. As she speaks to people, she remembers her name, life story, and whether she feels well or not.
At lunchtime she avoids the colleagues who ask if she wants to go to the café to have a fat-free diet snack. She takes a taxi to the mobile-phone shop. She watches the real Mrs. Crespí through the shop window. She’s wearing her denim shirt, the one they bought together, the one she’d always found very fetching. It doesn’t look bad on her. She’s also pinched her black Lycra bra. But not the underpants, they were in the wash. She attends to an old couple. She watches her use a thumbnail to unstick a piece of tape from a hands-free set. She doesn’t think she’s got up to anything with Mr. Salat. He’s not the kind who thinks about sex all day. You must be joking.
In the afternoon, she chairs a meeting with the head of marketing and three clients in the projection room. They are studying a survey on trends in the consumption of chewing gum and dim the light so they can see the screen properly. Their clients aren’t at all sure how to focus their campaign and the head of marketing lists all the arguments. While he’s speaking, Mrs. Salat looks him over: His hair is crinkly and his long, sharp canines give him a rather bee-like face. Her thoughts go on the rampage. She tries a repeat of what she did the previous night: She imagines the head of marketing is her lover. Whenever the head of marketing addresses her, she looks normal and aloof so their clients don’t catch on.
At the end of the meeting, he calls her into his office. Mrs. Salat picks up her folder, pens and bag. She knocks on the door.
Once inside, the head of marketing shuts the door and throws himself at her. Mauls and slaps her.
“You got me panting for it in the meeting, you sexpot!”
“I’m all wet, you idiot!” she responds. And also clouts him one. He grips her by the neck as if to strangle her. She sticks her knee in his testicles. They fight.
“Get your underwear down or I’ll kill you!” he whispers.
And she obeys. She knows the head of marketing’s next step will be to open his filing cabinet and take out ropes and a tube of Vaseline. To save time, she sits on his ergonomic chair; a chair with a purple seat and no backrest.
“I’ll gag you so you don’t start to shout, you dirty . . . ” he warns her, as he covers her mouth with adhesive tape.
“Ohh!” she sighs.
The head of marketing unzips his trousers. He says he wants her staked naked in the middle of his office. He stands behind her and lifts up her dress. They breathe heavily. He tells her he wants her to go downstairs and do it with the porter. With the porters, rather. He wants to involve more than one. The porters from every shift. One after another. Or two at a time.
When they finish, he unties her lovingly.
“I love you . . .” he whispers, on his knees, cradling her sore wrists. “I can’t live without you.”
“Leave your wife and I’ll believe you,” she answers, still heaving. And she cleans herself with two intimate hygiene wipes she’s just remembered she always keeps in her handbag.
He huffs, bored. Buttons up. He can’t leave her, he’s told her a thousand times. He can’t do a thing like that to Berta. (Berta, she intuits, is the head of marketing’s adolescent daughter.) Why can’t they stay as they are. Aren’t they having a good time? She looks down and mumbles that she doesn’t know how he can be so weak-minded. But she understands now. And to show him she understands, she’d just decided she wants to meet his wife. She wants to go to dinner at his place with Mr. Crespí. A dinner party for the two couples.
“And you’ll get me all hot and bothered again, you hairy little pussy?” his voice had perked up again. “But no underwear, it’s a deal?”
As she leaves his office tidying her dress, she avoids the backward glance of a female colleague, who immediately averts her gaze and behaves as if she’s working on her computer. They must all be in the know about her fling with the head of marketing. She picks the phone up and as soon as her finger touches the keypad she remembers Crespí’s mobile number. She greets him with the news of their dinner date for that night.
During the meal, Mrs. Salat imagines, rather more routinely, that the head of marketing is her husband. As she’d already anticipated, the head of marketing’s wife leaves with Mr. Crespí and she stays at home with the head of marketing and his adolescent daughter. She’s amused to reflect that she’s now the wife of the man who a few hours ago couldn’t abandon his wife for her. Perhaps she should hint that she knows he has a lover at work.
She says good night to his daughter and goes up to the bedroom with her new husband. But however much she licks and slavers over the nape of his neck, he pushes her roughly away and starts reading. Mrs. Salat guesses, too late, that they’ve not had sex for years. Like Mr. Salat and her. What should she call Salat now? Her ex?
In the morning, the head of marketing goes to the office, and she stays at home in her dressing gown flicking through the newspaper. She’s suddenly horrified by the thought her imagination will dry up and she’ll be forced to stay with the head of marketing forever. At the end of the day that would be more excruciating than being Mr. Crespí’s wife. She goes to the beautician and to the supermarket and has coffee with her lady friends. She gets home early because the daughter is coming to do her homework with her boyfriend, and she doesn’t want to leave them alone.
While the young ones get their afternoon snack ready, she busies herself in the kitchen, and doesn’t lose sight of them. She watches them open the fridge, get the cheese out, and make sandwiches with sliced white bread. Quite spontaneously she starts imagining the girl’s boyfriend stark naked. She tries to chase that one from her head. It’s not right to think such things about a minor. He can’t be sixteen yet. He wears a spike through his tongue that makes it difficult for him to speak properly. His chin is like an apricot, his eyebrows like a little devil’s and he’s got a big nose. The boy puts his hand under his T-shirt, absentmindedly. There’s a big scratch between his ribs and navel. Maybe he’s never done it, least not yet.
Mrs. Salat opens the fridge and takes out the plastic container of salami. She also makes herself a sandwich, and eats it with relish. She looks at the boy and turns red. What would it be like doing it with him? she wonders. In a flash, the adolescent asks her if she wants to play on the computer.
“Mom, we’re going to play on my computer,” says Mrs. Salat. And it is the adolescent girl who smiles and chides her: “But finish your homework first.”
They go upstairs. Once in the bedroom, Mrs. Salat declares: “I’ve given it another think. I do think I feel ready to do it.”
He gets excited. He stammers. Berta had told him he could forget about deflowering her until they were both eighteen. He embraces her so deliriously she’s forced to grip him by the shoulders and beg him not to be so rough.
During the week, Mrs. Salat goes to secondary school, eats fast food, IMs, listens to music on her Walkman, and beds her boyfriend three times a day. She now realizes she can’t imagine she’s anyone in particular’s boyfriend, because pupils in other grades and her friends’ boyfriends are always asking if they can come and do their homework in her house. At the sec—Mrs. Salat now says that now: sec—the latest is that Berta is “an easy lay” and is getting to be red-hot at oral sex. Even her teachers see her differently.
When she’s fed up with going to school every day and the unbalanced diet she’s on, she decides she’s had enough. One evening when she stays to dinner at her boyfriend’s place, she begins to imagine she is his father’s wife. Not because she fancies her boyfriend’s father but because she feels like a change of scene. Her boyfriend’s father immediately hassles her because she’s not banked the garage-hand’s money as she promised she would. She becomes her boyfriend’s father’s wife for a week. When she’s had her fill, she’s her boyfriend’s father’s brother’s wife and, then, the wife of the press officer of a political party with whom they had dinner one night. The press officer and his wife—her, now—dine with the general secretary of the political party and, for a few days, she is his wife. She’s also the president’s wife, and spends a busy, busy month greeting the populace from balconies and inaugurating exhibitions.
She’s a rock singer’s wife and then the wife of a writer she’s always admired. As the writer has lots of lovers, she becomes each of them in turn. Then, she’s back as his wife again and goes through his pockets: She finds notes written by herself in the depths of his jacket. One day she sees a couple quarreling in a bar—the man seems so sad and humiliated by the shouting that Mrs. Salat is grief-stricken. “How can a woman make this sweet man so sad?” she wonders. And begins to imagine going out with him. And when she occupies the place of the woman chiding him, she kisses him and treats him lovingly. He turns out to be an actor in porno films, and she—now his fiancée—is also into pornography and occasionally does striptease at private parties. She’s the lead actress in Hardcore Innocence, Parts One, Two, and Three, and decides to call it a day when one stag night where she’s the girl who pops out of the cake, she falls in love with the bridegroom. He’s the handsomest man Mrs. Salat has ever seen. She begins to imagine she’s his fiancée. The wedding is tomorrow.
During the religious ceremony she contemplates the father of her husband-to-be, her future brothers-in-law, all as handsome as her husband, the waiters, and the men who have come to the party. To think that by just using her imagination, they could all be hers, bores her stiff. She’s sure everyone possesses this ability of hers except that nobody has ever imagined what she imagines, because nobody has ever been as bored out of her mind as she is. Fact is no man can resist her, whoever he might be. Truth is she’s tried to imagine she’s the wife of the models advertising underpants on the billboards in bus shelters and it hasn’t worked for her. But it would be easy enough to track them down to a catwalk where they were parading, if she was really that keen. What an empty thought, that till the day she dies, any man in the world could be up for servicing her. Why do people rate sex so highly? This makes her go all weepy at the party, but everyone thinks she’s only being a tearful bride. In the evening, she gets into the limo with the man who is now her husband. They’ll go to their hotel and he, the man who’s respected her to that very instant, will want to lay her. Just the thought of it is a real drag. She doesn’t feel like it. Not today. She’s got such a headache.
From I Love You When I’m Drunk, published 2008 by Comma Press. Translated with the support of the Culture Programme 2007–13 of the European Union. Translation copyright 2007 Peter Bush. All rights reserved.