Presage by Núria Añó
Editor’s Note: If you are especially sensitive to stories that may involve domestic violence, please have a friend read this and assess whether or not it is safe for you to read. -Anora
Anna, whose shadow casts itself on the wall since very early in the morning, now starts to fade away. Anna and that shadow of hers that moves from wall to wall should not be locked in here. She could just pack up and leave, but she does not visualize what’s beyond ahead. She knew more, but now she’s forgotten it. She can no longer distinguish between what she wanted to become and what she has become.
She lives in a 60m² dwelling with official protection and has as husband the same guy who impregnated her when she was seventeen. Her son left long time ago, because he, unlike them, wanted to see the world from a new perspective. Now her son is learning the carpentry trade and he views these buildings of official protection as just as neat and gray as before when he comes and goes from his rented nest, with or without his girlfriend, on a second-hand bike or walking.
Anna wanted to become someone. It could be said that she wanted to go far, she did not know where, but she wanted to get there and soon. She became a mother when she was eighteen, the first one at her prom, a complete first fruit. Some others followed afterwards.
Previously Anna worked as a shop assistant and had fun with the customers. Except there was one thing her husband couldn’t stand: the boss was always shuffling money around.
The husband was wary because she had to deposit all those wads of cash, and something kept him from sleeping at night: that she would leave him for someone else or for a wad of money.
After a hard day at work the husband would go to the kitchen, and the only thing he noticed was that the kitchen was as cold as death. That, and that there were bits of soap in the sink.
The husband waited at the table, his arms crossed, and after a tense quarter of an hour of waiting he ended up with his head in his hands.
One day he zipped up his coat and ran down the stairs at full speed cursing his wife and his job, but especially his wife. He often went to the pub to drown his sorrows. The son also got used to eating canteen food at school. But that afternoon the husband kept walking until he walked right into the store and begged Anna to take off that ridiculous uniform and come home.
Anna answered, “Not a chance!”
Her job helped to pay the bills, to buy clothes for the boy, school books for the boy, and private lessons for the boy. As it got late Anna kept working, wrapping presents with a smile on her face. It was almost nine o’clock when she turned the key in the lock, and as soon as she walked in she got her first beating. Afterwards she had to cook dinner, even though she had a dislocated arm.
There is always housework to be done, even in a small apartment. The husband’s voice is irritating, both inside and outside his living quarters. The neighbors know his voice by now, even though he doesn’t have much contact with them.
Anna and the rest of the things that have been put off until later boil down to a bed that she makes first thing in the morning, a washing machine full of clothes that she picks up off the floor, and that later she will hang one by one on a small balcony that looks out over a light-filled patio.
She tidies up the house, airs out the bedrooms and dining room, sweeps the floor and goes down on her hands and knees to scrub it, because that’s how you reach all the corners. Later she makes a note of what they need and does a bit of shopping, always aware of just how much she can spend. Before the floor has dried she makes lunch, turns on the T.V. while she folds and irons the clothes, and all of a sudden the husband is already there. His eyes and face make it clear that he’s waiting for something, which doesn’t mean that he’s waiting for Anna.
She sits down next to her husband in the dining room, where their eyes are drawn to the T.V. out of habit. Unlike the house, the T.V. is comforting. So are the neighbors’ kids who laugh and shout as they throw stones on the patio. They don’t have any children anymore, although they tried it in the past. They brought up one. Now he’s gone, and soon he will start a new family of his own, following the model of this one, the only family he’s ever known.
Anna and her sad shadow can often be seen slumped against the wall. That image appears in the double bed night after night. And it often reappears in the kitchen, or in the dining room. And basically in the sink while as she washes and dries her face. Anyone could see that this woman is living a nightmare. Except that she goes through her daily life wide awake, knowing that she could make a mistake at any moment. When she has a bit of free time during the day, she goes up to the fifth floor of the building to meet her neighbor. They are both avid fans of a television series. Afterwards she goes back down, and sometimes, not always, her son would come home around noon. The son doesn’t have any money and neither does the mother, but she always manages to put a hot plate of food on the table for him. “The boy needs money.” That’s what she would say before and after scarfing down the food. Afterwards, when she turned her back for a moment, the son would sneak into his mother’s wallet.
Anna thinks a lot, and sometimes she feels something inside her, something besides the constant uncertainty that has become a part of her.
Anna works in secret, and in exchange she has to take a six-month old infant out for walks. Sometimes she turns around quickly, with the strange feeling that she is being followed – a kind of foreboding that she feels as she walks in the park. Nevertheless, Anna has to keep working. She says she does it for her son. So that he can have a future, even though in the beginning the price is high. Too high for someone so young.
As Anna is walking back to the block of new apartments, she covers up the baby and turns around again, but it’s too late. The husband was leaving the pub when he sees her. That’s when he started following her. Even though Anna’s figure gets further away and is lost in the crowd.
Anna and her husband don’t have many things in common, although both live under the same roof and sleep in the same bed. Indeed, it seems that she and he have nothing in common other than what they are undertaking.
Anna was cooking when the husband entered by the door carrying a bottle. He catches her from behind. He grabs her by the hair. He makes her fall, pouring gasoline over her and setting her on fire.
Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an English translation of a story written in Spanish.
Writer’s Note: I wrote the short story Presage for the International Women’s Day (8 March). The original text in Catalan was published in the book Estrenes. Antologia de poemes i contes. University of Lleida, 2005. The English translation has not been published before this.
Núria Añó is a writer and prize winning novelist from Catalonia, Spain.