Virginia was beautiful even though she never smiled. She was Spanish and pronounced the g in her name as if she were trying to clear a phlegmy h from her throat.
“Verhinya,” she had repeated after I anglicized her name.
I tried to say it right but couldn’t, and she didn’t correct me a second time.
It was easier online where pronunciation didn’t matter, exchanging a couple of words felt like a conversation, and meeting up in person seemed like a good idea.
Virginia hardly spoke. Throughout dinner she just sat there, sipping, nibbling, and nodding while I yammered on and on trying to stave off an uncomfortable silence. But every time I chewed a piece of steak, the quiet stretched on and the beads of sweat on my forehead swelled and began trickling down my face.
“The food’s good here,” I said, swallowing and mopping my forehead with a napkin.
In response, she just raised her eyebrows and forked a cherry tomato into her mouth.
On the walk back to her place, I stopped talking. The air was cool, my sweat was dry, and, in only a few blocks, the date would be over, and I’d never have to see Virginia again. So we strolled. Occasionally, I’d look at her and smile. Virginia never smiled back; she barely even glanced in my direction.
At the door to her building I said, “Well, thanks for dinner,” putting my hands in my pockets and turning towards her.
Virginia, without a word, fished her keys out of her gigantic purse and unlocked the front door. I waited for her to say something, anything to let me know I actually existed, even the phlegmy h sound as long as it was directed at me. But instead of speaking, Virginia stepped inside her building, held the door open, and glanced back at me. I almost asked her who she was holding it for.
“Coming in?” she asked, squinting at me, her crow’s feet stretching further from her eyes.
Her accent made her sound accusatory. I glanced down the street towards my apartment. It would have taken me ten minutes to get there, three if I ran. I turned back to Virginia. She licked her lips and squinted harder. At that moment, she looked just like her profile picture, so I followed her inside.
On the elevator, neither of us spoke. We were like strangers who lived on the same floor. I tried to visualize her apartment. I pictured it two ways: full of screeching, caged animals and loud cuckoo clocks or completely empty except for a mattress, with hot pink bedspread, in the middle of the living room. Both were wrong. Her apartment was Spain. She had brought it with her. Photographs of strong, flamenco dancers, guitarists, and singers dripping with passion crowded the walls next to proud matadors in gilded customs. The warm tiles beneath my feet were the colour of sand. A wooden bowl full of oranges was on the black coffee table in front of the couch, a white orchid was in the center of an antique dinning table, and a tiny, front-loading washing machine was in one corner of the kitchen.
“Beautiful place,” I said, stepping towards the stocked wine rack on the floor in the living room. “Do you have anything stronger?” I asked, wanting something that burned on the way down.
“Above the fridge,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. It was the kind of voice you instinctively say excuse me after.
She had gin and vodka. I would have made sangria but my recipe would have been vodka mixed with a bottle of wine. I went with gin, ice, and a squirt of lemon.
When I went back into the living room, Virginia was sitting on her feet in one corner of the sofa. I handed her a glass and sat in the opposite corner. I sipped and looked around. The bookshelves were full of Spanish books and movies with a few English ones sprinkled in. I read through titles I didn’t understand and when I’d finished my gin, I turned to Virginia; she was staring at me, her drink still full. I hadn’t noticed if she was watching me the whole time. I looked away then back again. I thought of the passion and intensity of all the Spaniards on her walls and began inching towards her. When close enough to touch her, I reached out to put my glass down on the coffee table but I let go too soon, and the glass shattered on the floor.
“Sorry,” I said, jumping to my feet.
She took her bare feet out from under her and stood up; broken glass and ice cubes had spread across the floor.
“Don’t move,” I said. “You might cut your feet. Where’s your broom?”
I stood and went into the kitchen.
“Beside the fridge,” she said from the living room.
When I returned with broom, garbage can, and paper towel, Virginia sat back down. I swept up the shards and ice and wiped up the melt.
“I hope that wasn’t your favourite glass,” I said.
She stood and came towards me.
“Did you cut your feet?” I asked.
She shook her head, took my hand, and smirked. I pressed up against her. She leaned into me. I kissed her neck. She tilted her head, offering it to me, and I slid my lips up her soft skin to her earlobe. She pulled away and led me down the hall to her bedroom. There, she stood beside her red bedspread and, staring at the floor, undressed. Not slowly and seductively, but as if she were getting ready to go to sleep. I watched her for a minute but felt guilty seeing her that way, so I turned to her closet where a flamenco costume hung on the door. I wanted her to put it on. To become the women in her pictures.
I undressed in front of that costume. When I heard her slip under the covers, I turned and followed her. I didn’t feel self-conscious, but she didn’t look at me until I was on top of her.
I kissed her. She kissed me back but kept her mouth closed. My tongue felt out of place against her lips. I went back to her neck; she tilted her head again. While I kissed, she bent her knees and reached down to her ankles. I slid inside her and moaned. Virginia’s mouth pressed against my ear, but she didn’t make a sound. Just a brief burst of air escaped her lips each time I thrust. I buried my face in the pillow to quiet myself. She rocked with me but no matter what I did, all I heard was her little bursts of air. Straightening my arms and propping myself up, I looked down at her dark eyes. Her face was vacant; she could have been thinking about her taxes or what to have for breakfast. So I thrust harder and harder, her cheeks, hair, and breasts jerking up and down with me. Sweat began to pour down my body and drip onto hers, but still she made no sound other than shallow bursts of breath.
The flamenco costume glittered in my periphery. I knew the passion was in her, wanting out, so I gripped beneath her knees, and pushed her legs towards her chest. I moaned to see if she was taking cues from me—she wasn’t. I didn’t know how to bring out the Spaniard in her. Pull her hair? Slap her face?
Say something, I wanted to yell. I stopped holding back and thrust as hard as I could, our skin slapping together. Her mouth fell open but nothing came out. I leaned forward and pressed my ear to her bottom lip, still pushing and pushing. And then, and then, and then, I stopped breathing, my eyes squeezed shut, and I went limp. I rolled off of her and sighed. Virginia lay, covered with my sweat, breasts exposed.
What’s wrong with her? I thought, trying to catch my breath. What’s wrong with me?
I stood and dressed in front of her flamenco costume. Virginia approached me from behind, reached past the costume, and grabbed a beige housecoat from the closet. She slipped it on and walked me to the door. Before stepping out of her apartment, I leaned forward and kissed her on both cheeks. It was the only Spanish custom I knew. She kissed me back, and I left. There was nothing to say. We didn’t know each other and we never would.