Lourdes Oñederra

Mrs Anderson´s Longing
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The following is an extract from the short story Mrs Anderson´s Longing. Translated from Basque by Amaia Gabantxo) and published in An Anthology of Basque Short Stories, University of Nevada-Center for Basque Studies, Reno, 2004, complied by M.J. Olaziregi.)


Nothing is more attractive than sensing the effect of one's attractiveness on others. That was surely the reason (thought Mrs. Anderson), why she had been so successful with men in her youth. In her youth. A long time ago. A long time ago, in her youth, men used to like Mrs. Anderson a lot, young men especially, because she also used to like men a lot (and nothing is more attractive than sensing the effect of one's attractiveness on others). She wasn't ugly in her youth. That must also have helped, although there were prettier girls around, in her parish. In any case, she was the most successful one. Back then she had even found the game too easy sometimes.

That's why she had to marry Mr. Anderson, because Mr. Anderson hadn't fallen in love with her as easily as the others. She mistook Mr. Anderson's apathy for true love and, since she married Mr. Anderson, Mrs. Anderson hadn't loved another man, hadn't felt attracted to any other man. She didn't think about it, it didn't worry her at all. Mr. Anderson's good points made up for his apathy and Mrs. Anderson was happy for many years. Happy while bringing up the children she and Mr. Anderson had together, happy while Mr. Anderson made money, happy while she kept their grand house for him, while she tended the garden.

She didn't love any other man, she didn't need another man. Mrs. Anderson still thinks she leads a happy life. As the children grew, during all those years when Mr. Anderson made money (lots of money), Mr. and Mrs. Anderson came to an agreement to follow certain rules neither of them ever voiced. Mrs. Anderson would take care of all household matters: she would decide what her husband and children should wear at any given occasion, the color of the living room wall, what they ate, whom to invite to their Thanksgiving party and how many towels to bring to the beach. At all other times she always did what her husband said, always accepted his orders. Seldom, very seldom did they argue. Or so it seems now to Mrs. Anderson.

But there was one thing that when seen from the outside seemed rather peculiar (although the Andersons never noticed it, of course). This was Mr. Anderson's rule about flying. At some point (Mrs. Anderson can't remember exactly when), Mr. Anderson decided that he and his wife would never board the same flight. In this way, if ever anything happened, their children would not be orphaned (completely orphaned, that is).

On that account too Mrs. Anderson had no doubts at all, she never started an argument, she never felt the need. When her husband mentioned his decision to her for the first time... so long ago now... yes, now Mrs. Anderson recalls. The children were old enough to be without her for a few days, the nanny could look after them (the youngest must have been three years old) and, when they decided that she too would go to her husband's meeting in Chicago, Mr. Anderson's precaution seemed completely reasonable to Mrs. Anderson. Bit by bit, year by year, flight after flight, that too (like so many other things) became a habit, and now it seems the most natural thing in the world. One more silent rule in the small world of the Anderson marriage. She almost finds it strange when at airports or in planes, she notices couples that look like they might be parents.

But that's enough daydreaming; now Mrs. Anderson has to open the telephone book to look for Tim's number. She puts her glasses on, pushing them up the bridge of her nose, closer to her eyes. Tim, Tim, Tim. There he is: Tim. Just like that, no surname. Nothing else: Tim. As soon as she reads the line of numbers she thinks it seems familiar to her and this is not so surprising after all, because although she only calls him once a year, she does ring him every year. Every year for a long time. It must be ten years now that she's been ringing Tim every spring. Ever since Mr. Anderson's heart attack; or rather since his second heart attack. Her husband was 62 then. She was 60. That frightening operation. That was twelve years ago. Mrs. Anderson counts the years one by one, every single spring, one by one. It must be ten or eleven years since she started calling Tim in the spring.

Mr. Anderson goes to Germany every spring, where they clean his blood in an expensive German hospital. Following his diktat, in total accordance with his decision, Mr. Anderson travels on one plane and Mrs. Anderson on another. Not only that, but Mrs. Anderson leaves a few days after him and arrives in Germany a few days later. During that period they do the usual tests on Mr. Anderson and (since he doesn't stay in the hospital overnight in the meantime) he makes sure the hotel room meets his wife's needs. He has always looked after his wife, protected her from the strange wide world. His sweet wife among all these rough Germans. They know the Andersons at the hotel and most years they give them the same room, but sometimes the room is taken, and once they were given one that was too noisy. His wife is used to the Californian mildness, to her quiet garden. What do Germans know, or Europeans for that matter.

Mrs. Anderson can't remember how she managed to fly later that first time. Perhaps there weren't any tickets, or maybe she said that as an excuse. No, she was sure she hadn't lied to Mr. Anderson. Something to do with the children. Maybe it was because their daughter was about to get married and she needed to help her choose her gown. Who knows. What's certain is that she flew a few days later than her husband.

Since then the ritual has always been the same:

A. Mr. Anderson rings the German hospital to make an appointment, to double check his appointment. Every year the charming voice that answers the phone is surprised because he doesn't immediately give his name. Dry Europeans.

B. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson buy their tickets to Europe. Always at the same travel agents. Each for a different flight, each for a different date.

C. Mrs. Anderson rings Tim and says that her husband is leaving on such and such a day. That she is leaving on such and such a day. Will he come to prune the trees in the garden. To get them ready for the summer.

D. Mr. Anderson leaves, with the suitcase his wife has packed for him. Often he takes a taxi to the airport, at least the last few times. Before that Mrs. Anderson used to take him sometimes. On a couple of occasions his son has taken him too (he comes down south sometimes for work reasons; their daughter lives in Washington with her kids).

E. Mrs. Anderson opens the front door to Tim, shortly after the plane leaves the airport.

Once a year. Every year. Tim is older than he was when he started to come. Ten or eleven years older. He is older, but still hasn't started to age. He must be around fifty. The wrinkles in his face have made him handsomer. His mouth stands out more, the softness of his fleshy lips is more pronounced. Ten years ago he only had a few gray hairs. Now his hair has turned almost completely white. Because of the whiteness of his hair, however, the healthy sheen of his face looks darker, is more noticeable. But it's Tim's muscles that Mrs. Anderson likes best. Or the eyes, maybe the eyes. The all-encompassing blueness of Tim's small eyes, the fugitive moistness in the folds of his wrinkles.

Not all men grow more beautiful with age. Most men just wither away, soften, look battered. That, or they become fat (or fat and red). Tim is almost always outdoors, out in the sun, in the open air. That is why he's got those healthy, mature good looks women are always so glad to encounter in a man. Those good looks.

This year too she must ring Tim. Her yearly nervous moment. Her yearly pleasure, her little secret, her sin, her longing: Tim's voice on the phone, and then, a few days later, opening the door to Tim.

Tim's smile, before he starts work, when she offers him some coffee. Tim's muscular arms, when he takes the ladder out of the garage. Tim's round buttocks inside the faded jeans, up the ladder. Tim's eyes looking at the branches that need pruning.

Mrs. Anderson watches Tim work from the window. Mostly from the kitchen window, because most of the trees Tim prunes are on that side. Sometimes she's outside as well, with the pretext of tending to the flowers, or sitting on the porch, when the weather is good (pretending to read the letters she's just collected from the mailbox).

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