Piot was beside the red pot beside the white, timber pillar. The blue, stained-glass ceiling suggested heaven. Marble-topped tables with black, iron legs covered the white floor.
“Lawrence!” he said. “Are you seeing the film?”
We often frequented that cinema café, the nicest cinema in the city.
“Yes,” I replied. “And you?”
The Rioja I ordered matched the bar’s red leather stools.
“Butts raised,” I said.
We clinked glasses.
A thin woman, with a drawn, white-powdered face, and painted red lips, always dressed in black, was at another table with a weary looking man, whose unkept, swirling, grey hair represented the cyclonic feelings that his tense, sad eyes revealed. He tried selling his drawings on the street. Nobody ever bought one. Beside him was a double-chinned, wiry-haired woman whose banter intentionally destroyed conversation.
“Some of the life members are here,” I said.
“What do you think are the requirements for life membership?” Piot asked.
The cinema’s cheapness, and the obscure films it showed, attracted eccentrics.
“Incapable of having a relationship,” I replied, “plus panic when having to communicate to strangers.”
The joy shooting from Piot’s face sprayed my mind with pleasure.
“Being unemployable also helps,” I added.
Piot’s eyes became polished pellets of titillation.
The only person I knew who carried everything in supermarket bags appeared.
“Pedro,” Ian said, shaking hands with Piot.
Ian was holding a supermarket bag.
“Mister Richardson,” he then said.
He called me “Sir Lawrence Richardson.”
We shook hands. Ian went to the bar. Piot grabbed a spare seat. Ian returned with a beer.
“We’ve been discussing life membership,” I said.
“Of what?” Ian asked.
“This place,” I replied. “You qualify for associate.”
“Great,” Ian said. “And what are AM’s requirements?”
“Repulsing women,” I replied. “But, at least, you’re employable. And you don’t panic when having to speak to strangers.”
“Wonderful,” Ian said. “I’ve never felt happier.”
“Paqui!” Piot said, getting up.
Paqui introduced someone called Ana. I grabbed two more seats. Ana’s brown eyes contained bar-light reflections. Her nose sloped down and curled back up above plump, red, symmetrical lips.
Ian, ignoring his AM attributes, thrashed his right arm up and down while imitating Piot’s accent: “Ver ott do zue means by dat?”
Piot’s eyes lost their amiable glints.
“I no understands diz,” Ian continued, Ana laughing.
Her insensitivity matched his.
“Time to go inside,” I said.
Piot and I sat in the front row.
“If he does that again,” Piot said, referring to Ian, “I’ll hit him.”
I saw Ian at a language exchange. His shirt matched his blue eyes, his jeans his reddish facial skin. Allergies made him rub his face, skin falling, blood where skin opened.
“I witnessed a classic case today,” he said, “of failure to join dots. I had a class with three women who claimed that height is irrelevant for women when choosing men. After that denial we talked about the actors they found attractive. I suggested Benito del Toro and one said: ‘He’s too short.'”
Ian stared wonderstruck.
“Five minutes after her denial,” he said, “she said that.”
“Every event,” I said, “is isolated to protect self-perception. Hence contradictions.”
“Some contradictions are so contradictory they’re surreal,” he replied. “The company’s receptionist imitated my accent when I asked her for the class attendance sheets. She looked at the other receptionist when she did it and they both laughed.”
His eyes became blue fires of disgust.
“I leant over the counter,” he continued, “and said: ‘When you learn to speak English as well as I speak Spanish, let me know. Go on, say something in English.’ She looked worried then, especially when I said her boss is one of my students. She didn’t find that funny.”
I told Piot what Ian had told me.
“Good,” Piot said. “Now he might think twice before doing the same to me.”
“I doubt it,” I said. “He looks for substitutes for success any way he can find them.”
“What do you mean?” Piot asked.
“He was supposed to be the extension of his domineering mother’s dreams of success, the golden boy, the top of his economics class at Oxford. He didn’t go on with it, refusing to bow to her will, so she tries making him feel like a failure. He knows he should be more successful, so he tries to grab snippets of success. Sometimes the snippets are silly.”
The next time Ian imitated Piot’s accent (there was an attractive woman with us), Piot and I smiled at each other. “I now feel sorry for him,” Piot said.
Kim has worked for NGO’s in Greece, Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine and Macedonia. He likes painting, art, photography and architecture, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid. 183 of his stories have been accepted by 108 different magazines.