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Aitor Arana Luzuriaga > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Five sisters |

At ten minutes past ten Amaia and Leire, mother and daughter respectively, Garbiñe, Pilar and Ana were in the lounge. They weren't talking to each other at that precise moment, because no suitable subjects of conversation occurred to them and so all that could be heard in the room were the polite words and phrases that are de rigueur in those situations.

Anastasio, the butler, entered the room at that very moment to convey some news to those assembled there. All heads turned to him.

-Mr Areitioaurtena has asked me to inform you that if your brother Agustin is not here by half past ten, the dinner will start without him.

-Well, I think I'll be able to survive until ten thirty -said Pilar, because she was the one who had been waiting the longest.

Then the yellow headlights of a car shone in through the lounge window. That meant someone had arrived and that the vehicle was being parked next to all the others.

-Please excuse me, ladies, -said Anastasio and almost ran for the door.

Everyone in the lounge turned to stare at the closed door after Anastasio had left; some sat, others stood, while they made out the butler approaching with another person from the noise of footsteps made by two people walking on the wooden floor. Moreover, barely a minute before had they seen the lights of the newly-arrived car being switched off. As Anastasio opened the lounge door once again, the four sisters and Leire expected to see Agustin come in, but a young woman who was not yet forty entered instead. She was wearing fine, woollen flesh-coloured stockings and a lilac dress. On top of that she had on a jeans jacket. Her long, curly hair was tidy and tied back.

-'Evening girls! -said the new arrival, smiling nervously-. It's been ages, hasn't it? Please forgive me for arriving late. I can see you've all been waiting for me and I'm dreadfully sorry. I left early but the bloody rain held me up on the road between Aizpuru and here. Do you know the stream under that dreadful bridge has nearly burst its banks and there is a huge pond in the road? It nearly swallowed the car and me!

The way the young woman spoke quickly gave away her nervousness and it was most likely because she was experiencing a situation she didn't go through every day.

-Excuse me, but. - said Pilar as she stood up-. Who are you?

-We haven't seen each other for such a long time and now you don't know me. I'm Agustina.

-Agustina? -inquired Garbiñe-. Agustin's fiancée?

-No, no - Agustina's voice became quieter-. I'm Agustina. your sister. Your one-time brother Agustin doesn't exist any more.

The silence that ensued after Agustina had spoken made a funeral look almost like a party.

-Please excuse me -said Anastasio shortly afterwards, after clearing his throat-. I'm going to tell the maid to serve dinner. Please come to the dining room whenever you wish.

-----

The maid was a scraggy woman of about sixty, a widow with black hair. She was speech-impaired and her name was Nati. She wore a white apron and a blue and white striped dress. She quietly served the first course of the dinner, the hors d'oeuvres: croquettes, prawns, cured ham, asparagus and foie gras. In the centre of the table stood two attractive salad bowls full if even more attractive salad for people to help themselves as they wished. Everyone noticed immediately that Leire adored prawns when her plate quickly filled up with the heads and tails. Garbiñe sat on the little girl's right and Amaia on her left. Opposite the three of them sat Pilar and Ana with their arms spread out ready to eat. And finally Agustina sat at one of the two ends of the table with Amaia on her right and Pilar on her left. It was a large, sumptuous table with ample space for the plates of two extra diners; the plates for Leire's grandparents, in fact. But the two places were empty and the five sisters used them for the bread and bottles of wine.

The fire had been lit in the dining room, as it had in the lounge and with the rain pouring down outside, it was warm and cosy for the guests at the Aizpeberri house. Anastasio was never far away performing his duties and, from time to time, he would whisper orders to Nati. Although the butler would never have dreamt joining in the conversation, he was able to listen to everything Mr. Areitioaurtena's daughters and granddaughter said, as he was never far from the table. The conversation centred on two main issues at the start of the dinner: the fact that their parents were not dining with their family and that now they would have to see and deal with the person who until then had been Agustin and who from then on would be Agustina.

-Father hasn't changed a bit and I didn't think he would - said Ana when they began dinner-. He had us waiting for him here until ten, he's at home with us the whole time but won't make an appearance and now he not only has the nerve not to come to the table, he won't let our poor mother dine with us. He's always been such a bastard and a fool.

-Do you think mother isn't here because father won't let her? -Agustina asked Ana.

-And do you think, sweetie, that mother has ever done anything without the old man's permission? She's fed up with him and with having to go to hospital so many times -said Ana, by way of reply.

Before dinner began Anastasio informed the diners of their father's promise: that he would appear with their mother to have coffee with them after dinner. If that was the way it was supposed to be.

-And what about you? -said Pilar turning to Agustina-. I'm sure whatever the old man has to tell us will not be any more earthshattering than your surprise. You're taking hormones, aren't you?

-Have you had a sex-change operation? -interrupted Ana, who was dying to ask even before Pilar had received an answer to her question.

Before saying a word Agustina finished chewing the salad she had in her mouth and swallowed. In a firm voice this is what she said to everyone:

-We all left home to get away from our father, as soon as we could. We didn't stay at home even for our poor mother's sake. That, said even in a few words means a lot, and only each of us knows how much sorrow and distress we had to put up with to get on in life without any help. We haven't heard from each other for years and we haven't made much of an effort to keep in touch. And clear proof of what I'm saying is the fact that Garbiñe is the only one among us who has met Leire before today -Agustina paused for an instant and sipped some water before continuing in the same firm, calm tone as before-. I suggest, my dear sisters and niece, that we keep things that way in the future. I want to make it clear to you that I had great doubts until midday today about whether to come, because I had decided not to come when I received father's strange letter. When we've heard what he has to tell us, I will be going back the way I came. I'm telling you in all honesty that I don't want anything from the parents who have forgotten me so easily.

-You're absolutely right, aunt -said Leire-. If I were in your shoes, I would do exactly the same.

-Thank you, Leire. You're the first person who has called me "aunt" and it is music to my ears.

Agustina spoke to Leire with a smile on her face but it evaporated the moment she turned to speak to Pilar and Ana, her two elder sisters:

-And you, you vipers.

-We, vipers? -said Ana nearly jumping out of her chair as she blurted out the short question in response to Agustina.

-That's right, you two vipers. And don't come pretending to me now. Those of us here are well aware that you are not model elder sisters, and think how you behaved towards me especially, and towards Amaia and Garbiñe when mother had to spend such long spells in hospital when we were little. But, all that belongs to the past, so let's concentrate on what's new. The questions you asked me just now are the sort you ask mares and donkeys. All that about hormones and operations we'll leave for people who are ill, if you don't mind. I, thank God, am in the best of health and now I am even more content with myself than ever.

The twins Pilar and Ana did not dare utter another word at that moment.




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