One winter’s day, we arrived in the village late afternoon, so it was already dark. It was Faustina’s birthday, so Juan took her a cake, which cost him quite a lot since his mother gave him a very limited allowance to get by on as a student in Béjar.
We took the cake in, thinking she’d be pleased. Instead, she started screeching at us. Faustina has a very loud voice – when you’re on the phone to her, you have to hold the receiver half a foot away from your ear and you don’t have to tell other people in the room with you what she said afterwards, because they already heard it all. She asked us why we hadn’t gone earlier to mend something up on the roof, before it had got dark, although it was the first I’d heard of it. Juan had mentioned nothing.
She pushed the cake back at her son and screamed that she didn’t want it, leaving poor Juan looking embarrassed and helpless. ”Take it back to where it came from!” she yelled, verging on hysteria. “What do I want a cake for, anyway? I’m too fat! Now get up on the roof!"
Of course, Juan refused. We hadn’t been able to get there earlier and he wasn’t going to get up on the roof in the dark and risk having an accident. If his father wasn’t so totally lousy when it came to DIY, he could have done it, but as it was, if you gave him a screwdriver, he’d probably clean his ears out with it.
By this time, I’d left the house and gone to sit out in the car while Juan faced the one-woman Spanish Inquisition. I’ve never really been able to get used to all this shouting and it quite upsets me. We talk in a civilised manner to each other in my family.
He finally came out in rather a hurry, without the cake, followed by a strange screaming. His mother’s voice is gruff, so that when she gets upset, it becomes an ugly, shrill scream, which constantly changes in tone as she spews out two hundred and fifty words a minute. Ideal for language learners just starting out.
He said he quickly left the cake on the table and ran out. No doubt she either threw it in the bin, threw it at her poor, unsuspecting husband or gobbled it all up quickly before anyone saw her, although as well as being very overweight, she also has incredibly high cholesterol levels.
Juan’s brother told us later that he had taken her some chocolates and a bottle of perfume. She screamed at him too, because again, she’s too fat to eat chocolates and she never wears perfume, she’s never worn it and she’s certainly not going to start now. Juan’s brother shrugged and gave a small, resigned smile. “We just won’t bother any more. She finds a problem with everything we buy her.” You can’t blame him for saying that – or taking much interest at all, for that matter. Like the time she told me that she’d spent three hours at the hairdresser’s and not one of the four men commented on her hair after and why did she bother? Well, it works both ways, doesn’t it?
Then there’s her long-suffering husband, who’s a little too fond of the vino, but I can’t say I really blame him, living with her all the time.
Once, Juan and I, and Juan’s brother and his girlfriend, were sitting having lunch in the small kitchen. It tasted slightly strange because there had been a swarm of flies in the kitchen (there always is in summer – it’s their favourite house in the whole village) and Faustina has the terrible habit of spraying half a can of fly spray into the air, having just put the food on the table, when Manolo came in from the bar, weaving slightly as he walked and smelling of cigarettes. He actually thinks no one knows he smokes.
Manolo went straight for a glass and the bottle of red wine. Faustina walked in behind him, saw him about to put the glass to his lips and in a temper, she knocked the glass from his hand, letting out a warrior cry at the same time. Manolo staggered back and red wine splattered all over the dirty white kitchen cupboards and the floor. He let out a swear word and scarpered from the room into the passage way outside. We all sat silently, trying to enjoy our fly spray-flavoured pork chops and three-day-old, rather limp-looking salad, listening.
Faustina had run out after Manolo and suddenly, there was scuffling and a sound of a punch. I dropped my knife and fork in amazement and turned to Juan. “Oh my God, Juan, I think your dad’s just hit your mother!”
Juan and his brother both gave a short, embarrassed laugh.
“No, it’s O.K. It was Mother hitting Dad.”
It obviously wasn’t the first time.
Manolo vanished again, probably going back to the bar he’d just come from, for a liquid lunch, because he certainly didn’t get lunch at home that day. He’s never been one for food anyway – he’s like a twig, compared to the sequoia he’s married to.