(Part One is here)
The introductions were simple: “Marisa”, she said, pointing to her friend. “Verdad”, pointing to herself. They sat, side by side, and Verdad grabbed the menu, lightly elbowed her friend, and said something to her, quietly. “Sit”, she said, motioning Jack and Dan to the seats opposite them. She smiled. “We are from Spain, if you are wondering why we talk English funny.”
Jack and Dan sat. The server came over, and the four of them placed their orders.
Verdad went on: “We live on a commune, about ten miles out of town. We grow organic fruits and vegetables. We make clothes — peasant, punk, gothic, the kind of stuff we are wearing — mostly recycled fabrics. We sell in the markets here. That’s why we’re in town today. We also do website design, alternative, very new, provocative.” She took a sip of her drink and reached for the basket of bread. “That’s mostly it. Now you tell us about you.”
Dan introduced his friend as a “logistics coordinator”, and himself as a writer, journalist and music producer. The women looked dubious, smiled at each other wryly. To Jack’s consternation, Dan told them that Jack had recently divorced, that he, Dan, had never found a woman stupid enough to marry him, and that he was now teaching Jack how the dating scene had changed since Jack was last part of it.
“And how has it changed?” Verdad asked. “I am very interested in history”.
Dan was torn. The last line sounded a bit like a reference to their ages, but it was delivered so sweetly, with such an adorable accent, that he discounted the possibility. He tried to explain that since the 1970s dating had become more serious, more considered. He mostly managed to make himself sound old.
“Well, love has always been serious business, no?” Verdad replied. “But at the same time, women are now coming into their own, they are making the moves, they are deciding what is right for them, and going after it, don’t you think?”
Jack was sitting opposite Verdad, too far from Marisa to start a separate conversation, so he decided to jump in. “So how did that happen, then? How do two young women from Spain come to be living here, in a commune? Was it in search of love? Did you know that’s where you would be living when you came here?” For some reason he felt compelled to ask them a question, instead of letting Verdad ask questions that Dan was going to hang them both on.
Verdad looked over at her friend. Marisa said, in a dark, quiet voice: “We came here for fun, more than for love, really. A friend of ours from our village in Spain had come here and found the commune, and said she loved it here, and invited us to visit and to stay. That was a year ago, and we’ve been here ever since. The guys in the commune are wonderful, lovely, caring people. They work hard, and two of them are excellent chefs, and they asked nothing of us except our company. It was impossible not to love them.”
Dan looked a bit defeated at this news. Jack looked relieved, and replied, “So tell us more. How big is the commune, and if the cuisine there is so good, why are you eating in a one-star place like this?”
“Because you asked us”, Marisa said, looking him right in the eye. “It was obvious you liked us, and that it would give you pleasure to have dinner with us. You seemed rather unhappy, and it gives us pleasure in return to do something to make you happy.”
The men said nothing to this. Dan seemed encouraged by her words, while Jack blushed slightly.
Marisa went on: “There are ten of us in the commune, seven men and three women. We are all very fortunate. We come from good families, reasonably wealthy, attractive, strong, healthy. We found each other, and we believe that everything we do is a gift, a giving back of some of the good fortune we have received. This is the responsibility of those that have. Don’t you think?”
Dan remained dumbfounded, not sure what kind of gifts they might be prepared to offer, and uncertain how to discover the answer. Jack was now in his stride, however, and he replied: “That’s a very generous and commendable approach to life. But surely people take advantage of that?” He resisted the temptation to look at Jack.
Marisa responded: “People can only take advantage if you give it. We decide what to give, and to whom. We have been blessed with good looks, and we think it appropriate to show off our beauty, to be generous with it. If you are a great artist or a great chef and you produce beautiful things, you should share these things, with everyone. A gift is to be given. It costs us nothing to dress well and to show ourselves, not arrogantly, humbly. It gives people pleasure. How could we not share that with the world, it would be selfish. But at the same time we are not promiscuous. We are not for sale.”
Verdad smiled and reached into her bag. “These are not for sale now either. We make these in the commune. They are for you, because now you are our friends.” She handed each of the men a small box of handmade chocolates. “You each find a woman, or a man, who makes you happy, you give these on to them. You ‘pay them forward’ as they say in the movie.”
There were thank-yous and then the food arrived, so they said nothing for a few minutes. Jack decided to pursue his curiosity: “And how does this generosity apply to love? One of the tragedies of the world is that there is a scarcity of love, and that people who love others generously don’t always get love in return.”
Marisa laughed. “Verdad is very generous with love.” She nudged her friend gently. “All day today, with all the men in our commune. I had to drag her away to get ready for our trip into the city. It’s a miracle any work got done at all!” The two women laughed at each other.
Verdad said: “You were just as bad last weekend! And how can you resist all these lovely young earnest men, cooking sweet things, wearing nothing except aprons. They needed a reward for all their hard work… and so did I!”
Marisa smiled and turned back to the men. “But seriously,” she said to Jack, “there are different kinds of love, and it is not anything to be stingy with. Verdad and I are content to share our bodies only with the other members of the commune — and no, there are no openings for new members,” she added with a giggle. “That works well for the commune, and keeps us all fit and looking after ourselves. But we show and give love in other ways, ‘make love’ in other ways, with everyone we meet. Just as we have an obligation when we have beautiful things to share them with the world, so too do we have a responsibility to make more love, in many ways, generously, with everyone we meet. So with you, we offer a loving friendship, and loving company, and excellent chocolates, and there is no obligation. Perhaps you have some way of offering love to us today, or perhaps another day when we may meet and you are not so unhappy. Or perhaps the love we have shown you, you will pass on to someone else, later, when you are still or finally feeling warm about life and about other people.” She smiled and winked at Jack.
At this point, Dan took a deep breath and jumped back into the conversation. He reiterated his opening parry from his earlier conversation with Jack, and concluded with a question to Marisa: “So if all the lovely young women like you are only interested in lovely young men, like the men in your commune, and if less young and less lovely men like Jack here still only lust after lovely young women, what is to become of them? Are they doomed to be without the love they want so much? Does old age really inevitably bring more loneliness, as this generous exchange of love leaves them more and more on the sidelines?”
Verdad intervened: “So you are telling me that women of your age have nothing of interest to you? Such women know many things that we don’t know, that they can share. You can have conversations with them that are much richer, more meaningful than you can have with us. You share a — how do you say it? — a context with them. You don’t have to love their bodies if you don’t — no one is asking you to be or do what you are not, or don’t believe. But you can still love them for who they are. Believe me, they probably aren’t that crazy about your body either. But you can still love them, hold them tight, sit them on your lap. You can do that authentically, honestly no?”
When they nodded she went on: “This is not about charity. Generosity is never begrudging, hesitant. If it doesn’t repay you, make you totally happy, to give something, you should never give it. But with practice you learn that you can be happy giving something to everyone, and that is what I think you call ‘win-win’ right? To a child you give attention, a model, answers to questions. To someone who has given you something, a new skill or knowledge or a good joke or pleasant company, you give appreciation. To an adult who gives you appreciation, for your ideas or intelligence or sense of humour or good looks, you give attention and acknowledgement. It’s all good and it all grows and it’s all generosity and it’s all love. The more you give the more you’ll get.”
Marisa was giggling at the glum-looking Dan. “All he can think of is that he can’t get some young body telling him he’s the most wonderful sexual superstar in the world. Really, you’re so sad, Dan the Man. Ask yourself, please, why this is so important to you? Can you not appreciate music or art if you can’t make it yourself? Why is so much of your self-esteem, your sense of self, caught up in the fact that little girls want little boys (or in some cases other little girls) to kiss them, rather than you? The important thing is loving, giving, not what you get in return. If you need something — a young body or a big house or a fast car or to be famous — you will always be poor, because you will always have less than what you need. Even if you get this thing you need you will find you need something else that you don’t have, and you will always be unhappy. If you give a lot, generously, because it gives you pleasure to do so, and if you need nothing, then you will always be rich and always be happy. And then, like us, you will always be in love.”
(to be concluded in Part Three)
(Image from Suicide Girls)
Category: Short Stories