Tuesday, April 5, 2011

CHAPTER NINETEEN: "Why Oh Why Did You Lie Ronda?"

He is Enrique Jerez, 60, a major purveyor of olive oil and sherry in Spain, and he is visiting three different factories he owns in Sevilla. He is a silver-haired grandfather, and he is more than happy to show Ronda his small collection of photos.

"Lovely children," she says, after he passes a tiny snapshot across a plate of capers and olives in the center of the table. In the photo, two dark-haired boys sit side by side on a settee, heads touching, their eyes as dark as black coffee. "You must adore them."

"Very much," he says, smiling agreeably. "And I adore my daughter who is their mother." He slips the photos back into a soft leather wallet. "And you, señora, do you have children?"

Ronda smiles. Wipes her lips. "Two boys, both in college."

"You are a young woman to have grown children." He passes one finger across his neatly clipped mustache, then rubs his cigarette into the ashtray. "And may I say, too, that you are a lovely woman."

Ronda blushes, and rushes to lift her glass. She drains it of wine and he pours more. The waiter sets down Ronda's paella, a huge metal pan overflowing with shellfish. "I should have ordered something smaller," she laughs. And to herself, she thinks, how then should I plan my getaway right after dinner?

Señor Jerez is served a plate with thin slices of cured ham and with it, sausages and potatoes.

"What brings you to Sevilla?" he asks.

Ronda chews slowly on a piece of shrimp, trying to decide what to say. Certainly, in this situation, nobody could possibly get hurt if she lies.

"My husband passed away last year," she begins. "He was from Spain, and since he has family near Granada, I decided that it might be nice if I paid them a visit." She smiles politely.

Jerez studies her quietly. "I see," he says finally. "I am so sorry about your husband. Was he ill?"

Ronda looks at her plate. She hates lying. Why did she begin this silly charade?

"Well, we aren't entirely sure. He...he needed emergency surgery for...for a hernia. And then, nobody knows exactly what happened. The fact is there was some infection, and bleeding..."

She shrugs, tries to look suitably upset.

"I see. I'm sorry."

Ronda breaks off a crust of bread. "Yes," she says solemnly, cutting into a second shrimp.

"We were devastated." Suddenly she realizes the irony: that this sad tone of hers isn't a lie.

In truth, she feels as though somebody has died.

"Of course. What a tragedy." He spears a tiny square of ham and a chunk of potato with his fork. "What was your husband's name?"

Her eyes shoot up. She wasn't expecting this question. But she should have.

"Uh...Jesús. My husband's name is ...was Jesús."

"Jesús? No, I mean the family name."

"Oh yes, certainly. Becerra. Jesús Becerra."

Immediately an uncertain look flashes across the man's eyes. Ronda tries to avoid his stare.

She dives into the paella again, but when the fork enters her mouth, she knows she isn't hungry. She also knows that she has said something terribly wrong.

"That is very odd," Señor Jerez says. "So very odd."

Ronda stares into her paella. Why in God's name did I lie? she wonders. She takes such a big gulp of sangria it hurts her throat going down.

"Oh?" she says, so casually she can barely hear herself speak.

"Well, yes, because I know a young guitarist, a very talented man by that very same name.

His music is quite popular in certain quarters here. Near Malaga."

Ronda's hand freezes on the stem of her glass. She contemplates Jerez's squared face, his neatly clipped silver hair. She wants to disappear. She wonders what excuse she can give, how she can politely say she doesn't want any more food, or that she needs to get up, to leave the table for good, right now.

This post appeared first on the Huff Post on March 29, 2011.

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