The Hermit
truth is she’s probably a rather average and sweet girl in a floral dress, with pale English breasts like her mother.
    – Salud. Erhard sucks the rum and sugar from his glass and picks the mint leaves from his teeth.
    – It’ll become an obsession, Beatriz says. – In ten years you won’t be able to think about anything else, and you’ll talk non-stop about her. Just you wait and see. Like those fishermen who finally, at long last, hook some monster fish only to lose it.
    – She’s not that great, Raúl says.
    Beatriz gives him an elbow.
    – I’ve survived without a girlfriend, I think I’ll survive a little while longer.
    – Seventeen years, Raúl says. – That’s because you live in a cave.
    – It’s not as simple as you make it sound.
    – I know that. But what if you only sent half of what you earned home, or a quarter? Then you’d have the money to do something else.
    Erhard doesn’t want to discuss it.
    – The ex-husband in Paradise, Raúl says to Bea. – He sends his entire fortune back to Denmark.
    – That’s nice of you, Beatriz says.
    – It costs money to save yourself. Isn’t that what you told me once? Wise words, Old Man. Raúl laughs. – My point is, living out there you don’t exactly have a dynamic social life. You need to go out and meet people.
    – If I’m meant to meet someone, I will.
    – Please stop with all that karma bullshit. If you’re so tired of the nickname Hermit, then come out of your turtle shell a bit more.
    – His shield?
    – Yeah, that too. Meet someone new, meet some ladies.
    – Hey, I want to meet new people too. Why don’t we ever meet new people?
    – We do. On the boat, et cetera.
    – Yeah, old men with old money. I mean interesting people, like in Barcelona.
    Raúl thinks it’s rubbish, that she’s just pissed. She has nothing to complain about, he says, his hand slipping under her dress. Erhard sits quietly, staring ahead. His eyes wander across the roofs which appear to be shimmying down and poking their antennae in the water. To turn it all in the right direction, he closes his eyes. When he opens them again, the terrace is empty. The chairs are empty, and everything’s tidied up. He’s lying underneath a thin blanket, and a small candle burns. The sky is heavy, blue, lifeless. The city light conceals the stars.

15
    He picks up a woman. From the harbour in Corralejo, where she stood with her hair poufed out in every direction following the trip on the ferry, to Sport Fuerte, where she can’t find the address of the apartment in which she’ll live. She’s probably close to sixty. Her fingers are long and already brown and ringless. On top of that she’s Swedish, and she’s confused and nervous about something. They can almost communicate in their native languages, even though he’s forgotten much of the Swedish he once knew. She asks him about the necklace that’s dangling from the rearview mirror: a small, verdigrised pendant made of silver. It’s so dark out here, he says, and she laughs at him. In a wonderful way. She says it’s been an interesting ride. Slowly and methodically she drops the money into his hand, and he feels her fingers. That’s the kind of thing he misses.
    But it won’t lead anywhere. He helps her retrieve her suitcase and she squats, puzzled, to rummage through her bag. She doesn’t give him her number – as he’d momentarily hoped she would – and she leaves his business card on the backseat along with a few papers from the ferry. He takes this as a sign. What else could it be? He’s too old and too ugly.
    During siesta, he drives home and eats breakfast.
    He lifts the finger out of his pocket. It’s light-brown and crooked; his own fingers are pink, except for his nails – they’re black. One’s nails turn black here on the island. The black dust that hangs in the air above settles onto everything and creeps underneath fingernails. He scrubs them with his shoe brush and washes them in the garden.

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