Book Extracts
All Yours by Claudia Pineiro


 By then it was more than a month since Ernesto had last made love to me. Maybe even two months. I don’t know. It wasn’t as if it mattered all that much. I’m always really tired by the evening. You wouldn’t think it, but house- work can be exhausting if you’re the kind of person who likes to have everything perfect. If it was up to me, I’d be asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. But a woman knows that if her husband goes such a long time without seeking her out, well, it can mean lots of things. I thought I ought to talk to Ernesto about this, ask him if anything was wrong. And I so nearly did. But then I said to myself, what if asking questions backfires on me, the way it did with Mummy? Because when she thought Daddy seemed a bit strange she went to him one day and said, “Is there a problem, Roberto?” And he said, “Yes, you’re the problem! I can’t stand you any more!” He left there and then, slamming the door be- hind him, and we never saw him again. Poor Mummy. Anyway, I had a pretty good idea of what was wrong with Ernesto. He was working like a dog all day, filling every spare minute with courses and workshops – so wasn’t it obvious that he’d be exhausted at night? And then I said to myself, “Rather than start asking questions, I’m going to trust the evidence of my own two eyes.” And what I saw was that we had a fantastic family, a daughter about to finish secondary school, a house to die for. And that Ernesto loved me – no one could deny that. He never deprived me of anything. So I calmed down and told myself, “The sex will return when the moment’s right; I’ve got so much, there’s no point getting obsessed about the one thing that’s lacking.” Because, after all, we’re not living in the Sixties any more, nowadays people know that there are other things that are just as important – or more so – than sex. The family, spirituality, getting on well, harmony. Plenty of couples who behave like sex gods in bed can hardly bear to look at each other the rest of the time. It’s true, isn’t it? So why go looking for trouble, like my mother did?

 But all too soon I found out that Ernesto was cheating on me. I was looking around for a pen one day, and since I couldn’t find one, I opened his briefcase and there it was: a love heart, drawn in lipstick, with the words “All Yours” across it, and signed “your true love”. Pretty corny stuff, but the truth is that at that moment I felt very hurt. My instinct was to throw it in his face, to say “What is this, you piece of shit?!” Fortunately, I chose instead to count to ten, took a deep breath – and did nothing at all. It was hard keeping up a front over dinner. Lali was in one of those moods when nobody can stand her, apart from Ernesto. It didn’t get to me any more; that’s just the way our daughter was, and I was used to it. But it bothered Ernesto. He would be trying to have a conversation and she would reply in monosyllables. Given my own recent discovery, I was hardly in the mood for repartee myself. But I was worried that they would notice something.

 I’m used to covering silences, stepping into the breach when a conversation’s floundering. It’s a kind of gift I have. To allay their suspicions, I told them I didn’t feel well, that I had a headache. I think they believed me. And while Ernesto pursued his monologue with Lali, I began to imagine what I was going to say to him. Because I had already ruled out my first reaction, which would have been to ask “What is this?” I mean, how would he have answered me? A piece of paper with a heart, the words “All Yours”, a signature. No, that would have been a stupid question. What mattered was finding out if the note signified something important to him or not. Because the truth is that, however painful it is to admit it, at some time or other, all women are deceived by their husbands. It’s like the menopause: it may come sooner or later, but nobody gets away scot-free. Sure enough, there are some who never find out, and they are the lucky ones, because life stays the same for them. While those of us who do find out start asking ourselves who she is, where we went wrong, what we should do, whether or not to be forgiving, how to make him pay for what he’s done – and the mental tangle we create becomes so great that, by the time he’s left the other woman, it’s too late to unpick it. We even run the risk of inventing a much more serious and complicated story than the real one. And I didn’t want to make the same mistake that so many other women make. Because there was no way that a woman who draws love hearts with lipstick and signs herself “your true love” could be anyone important in Ernesto’s life. I knew Ernesto: he loathed that sort of thing. “He’s just getting his rocks off,” I thought. Because women these days are shameless. They see a guy and they go after him, pursuing him until he feels like a wimp if he does nothing. “The truth is,” I told myself, “why confront Ernesto with some big scenario, when this woman’s going to be history in a week anyway?” Right?

 All that mattered was to be vigilant, to be sure that the relationship was not developing. So I started going through his pockets, opening his mail, keeping an eye on his diary, listening in on the extension when he was on the telephone. The kinds of things that any woman in my situation would do. As I had imagined, I didn’t find anything important. There were one or two more notes, but no cause for alarm. Until I started noticing that Ernesto was coming home later and later, that he was working at the weekends, that he was never around. The only thing he didn’t miss were meetings about the school leavers’ trip Lali was going on. As for everything else – absent without leave. And then I did begin to worry, because, if it was always the same woman he was seeing, this could get nasty. One day I followed him. It was a Tuesday – I remember the exact day because we had just been at a meeting about the details of Lali’s trip. Ernesto was already in a bad mood but that didn’t surprise me because this school trip was driving him round the bend. I thought he was over-reacting because everyone knows that those trips are a bit chaotic, but you have to trust in the education you’ve chosen for your daughter. What else can you do? Ernesto wanted to control every- thing – it all seemed badly organized to him. As soon as we got home, Lali shut herself in her room; she’s always holed up in there. We went to the kitchen to eat some- thing. That was when the telephone rang and Ernesto answered it. It was late, inappropriately late, I’d say, to call a family home. Ernesto became agitated, even more than he had been already, his voice began to rise – and then he went to the study for more privacy. Meanwhile I picked up the kitchen extension in time to hear her say: “If you don’t come right now I won’t answer for my own actions.” And I hung up.

 Ernesto came back to the kitchen, putting on a front though his eyes were glistening and his jaw was clenched.

 “There’s been a serious problem at the office,” he said. “The system’s crashed.”

 “That’s fine, Erni,” I said. “Off you go and reboot the system.”

 I slipped out after him, got into my car and followed his. I’m not a good driver, especially at night, but needs must. I could hardly call a taxi and say “Follow that car!” like on TV. I hadn’t the first idea of what I was going to find! He drove to the Palermo Woods and parked beside the lake. Switching off my lights so that he wouldn’t see me, I parked about a hundred yards away, then got out of the car and continued on foot. I hid behind a tree. Immediately she arrived – Truelove – also on foot. It was Alicia, his secretary. I never would have imagined that woman drawing a heart in lipstick and writing “All Yours” to a married man. I mean, I even liked her! She was a lovely girl, simple, with a style very similar to my own. She walked towards him and put her arms around his neck as if to kiss him, but Ernesto pushed her away. He seemed annoyed about something. There was an argument and she cried then tried to embrace him, but he seemed increasingly angry. I began to feel more at ease: this relationship clearly wasn’t going anywhere. Ernesto had never ever treated me that way, not in seventeen years of marriage. He made to leave and she tried to hold him back. He shook her off. She clung on to him and he ended up pushing her. Such was his bad luck, though, that her head caught a blow on a tree trunk in the undergrowth and she was knocked out cold. Ernesto went berserk, shaking her, taking her pulse, even trying to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. All in vain – it was a lost cause. I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t exactly step out from behind the tree and say “Shall I give you a hand, Ernesto?”

 So I went home. It seemed the most sensible thing to do.