The Spanish Wife

You’d never have credited it, of Moffat. He was such a grey, precise little man. The sort who is always at his desk a full fifteen minutes before anyone else. The kind whose desk resembles some general’s abstract plan of attack—never the messy reality of the battlefield. The type of irreproachable bachelor who’s just that—not playing for the other side or anything, but a man who lived a blameless, virtuous, dull life, first with his widowed mother, then when she died, by himself, in a small Holborn flat as neat and grey as his person. He appeared to have no ambitions, no dreams, no hopes, no fears. He had risen in the company only in small steps but did not appear to be resentful of the fact that chaps like Jones or Carey, who’d come in at the same time as he, with pretty much the same qualifications, were streets ahead of him now. He had no enemies, but no friends, either. At least, unless you count me.

I took an interest in the funny little chap, for no reason I can really explain, because he is a good deal older than I and not really interested in the same things as I am. My last lady friend, Cora, told me that it was because Moffat made me look good—that his greyness made me look much more sparkling, witty and charming than I really was. But as she said it just before saying I was the most immoral, most selfish man she’d ever met, and slamming the door in my face, we can probably discount that as an explanation. I suppose, if I was to be pushed for an explanation, I was intrigued by him, in a strange way. He seemed to live life in a kind of dream. No, not really a dream; he was like a shadow amongst the solid. Not like a ghost, mind you; ghosts are unexpected things, producing disturbance, fright, an upending of order, what have you. Moffat was the very soul of the expected; the very epitome of unchanging order, always there, never noticed. A nobody, in short.

Until the day when he returned from Spain, with a Spanish wife. The going to Spain was odd enough: the country was in the middle of a bitter civil war, with Reds and Brownshirts and I don’t know what other dismal colours battling it out for control. Why Moffat of all people would go there was a mystery big enough in itself. He was not political in any sense of the word—he’d no more have dreamed of joining one of those hotheaded foreign militias rushing over to drape themselves in the warring colours, than he’d have thought of dancing naked around the office. (The mind boggles!) He had no sense of romance either, none that I’d been able to discern, at least—and certainly the image of sultry senoritas with roses in their teeth and clicking heels and bullfights and all that sort of thing would, I’d have sworn it, simply fail to register with him. He had not, so far as I knew, ever travelled before beyond the various seaside resorts of the South of England. Oh, and once to Cornwall, I believe, but he hadn’t much liked that. Too foreign I suppose. And yet there it was—Moffat had not only gone to Spain, but he’d come back with a Spanish wife. A wife at his age—he was by then in his mid-fifties—was surprising enough. But a Spanish wife—that really took the biscuit. A real revolution, you might say.

Rather to my chagrin, I wasn’t the first to find out. Mrs Evans, the tea-lady, made the discovery. On the day Moffat returned from holidays, Mrs Evans had come in early, at the same time as Moffat himself, and had seen him sitting at his desk, gazing at a photograph. In the deft way of her kind, she had managed to contrive a glimpse.

“And that’s when I saw her. Gave me quite a turn, I can tell you! Never would’ve thought Mr Moffat had it in him.”

Dolores, her name was, Moffat said. He did not seem at all put out at being caught by Mrs Evans. Indeed, she said, he seemed to positively relish the opportunity to talk about his sudden spouse. He’d met Dolores while on holiday in Spain. They’d “clicked”, as the saying has it, at once. They married within the fortnight. Yes, he smilingly told the gaping Mrs Evans, she had come back with him to England. He was very happy. Everything was perfect.

“I am sure it will all end in tears. It isn’t natural,” said Mrs Evans, sagely, as we crowded around her, agog at her story. Moffat was out of the office, on some errand—rumour had it he’d gone to check on his Spanish wife, make sure she was still real, and not a dream. Some of the others in the office were inclined, despite the evidence of the photograph and Moffat’s words—the man had never spun a fantasy in his whole life—to believe that it couldn’t be true, that Moffat had somehow gone a bit senile or, for reasons of his own, was pulling the wool over our collective eyes. But I knew that it must be true—Moffat had no imagination, no mischief, no romance, as I said, in him.

I pumped him for information. He was happy enough to talk. He wasn’t exactly like a man transformed—he still dressed in the same dull way, his desk was still precise, his habits still regular, his conversation still steering clear of argument or anything resembling opinion—but it was undeniable that there was a certain something in his fish-like grey-green eyes that wasn’t there before. He did not say why he had gone to Spain, only that he had met Dolores the very day he arrived, that she was a widow, her husband had died in the fighting (he did not say on what side, and I didn’t press him. It was of no consequence beside the much bigger thing.) He said they had got on at once, they understood each other, and she had made him very happy by agreeing to become his wife. He talked endlessly about that, but I never quite understood just how he had wooed her. I mean, other than talking about this and that. It didn’t sound like he’d made passionate declarations. It was as if they had just been drawn to each other, for no apparent reason.

So, somehow, he must have won the heart of his Dolores—and judging by her photograph, she was quite a handsome sort of woman, with the fine black eyes and the proud bearing of Spain. She also looked a fair bit younger than Moffat—in her thirties, I judged, looking at the flawless Castilian skin—so his wooing of her had something of the miraculous about it.

The whole thing began to disturb me. It preoccupied me. I could not stop thinking about it. I could not understand why out of all the men in the world, she had chosen grey, dull Moffat. She must have needed to get out of Spain, I reasoned. She must have needed a passport out of that hellhole. Any man would have done. Any British man, anyway. Perhaps, from her point of view, safe and dull in Holborn was like Paradise after the horrors of her homeland. Putting up with the passionless embrace of Moffat was a small price to pay. Poor woman.

I risked a small joke. “You went to Spain and brought Sorrow back with you, didn’t you, old man?” He looked at me reproachfully with those fish-eyes, and I hastened to add, seeing he was about to take offence, “Dolores. That’s what her name means. Sorrow, in Spanish.”

“Really.” He hadn’t even seemed to know. He was still utterly incurious. He seemed to know no more about Spain than before, or any other place, for that matter, except Holborn. But as I looked at him, it seemed to me that he was changing. He looked—well, better, I suppose. Less grey. Healthier. Not that he’d looked unhealthy before, exactly. But his cobweb-coloured hair had acquired a gloss, his skin looked tauter, and as I said, his eyes seemed, I don’t know, brighter, more alive.

I had only been once or twice to Moffat’s flat. Our friendship, such as it was, didn’t extend much beyond sandwiches in the park on fine workdays and a couple of times the cinema after work. Usually, I was too busy with one or other of my lady friends on the weekends to spare time for Moffat. But he had invited me to dinner once, and another time I had gone to his flat for a drink. His flat had presented no interest to me, as a student of human nature. It contained a few ordinary books in a single bookshelf—abridged classic novels, that kind of thing—a few records in a cupboard—light classics, the kind of music someone who really couldn’t be bothered with music owns—some very ordinary furniture, two or three reproductions on the walls—inoffensive stuff, landscapes and so on, and a devotional text under glass which I believe had been old Mrs Moffat’s. Dull as ditchwater, in other words. But now I was seized with a desperate urge to go there. I must get myself invited.

“When will you introduce me to this paragon of yours, then, old man?” I said, chaffingly. “Perhaps she will think we British are prejudiced against her, if you never introduce her to anyone. And I would hate her to think that of any of us. Especially me, old man. I’m your oldest friend, remember.”

As I’d hoped, he coloured up at once. “Of course I don’t forget that, Granger. And of course you’re right. I was just—well, giving Dolores time. Allowing her to settle in. She doesn’t go out much, you see. She’s still a little—afraid of her new surroundings. But I’ll talk to her tonight.”

The next day, he told me smilingly that it was all arranged. “Saturday afternoon. Dolores is looking forward to meeting you.”

“Good,” I said, “I’m looking forward to it too and …” Then I realised something extraordinary. “Good lord, Moffat, you’ve gone and dyed your hair!”

It was true. The hair was cobweb-coloured no longer, but blond. Not bright blond, you understand, or I’d have noticed at once, but a sort of dirty blond shade that fooled the eye at first. Very subtle—but also very unlike Moffat. That is, the old Moffat.

He blushed a little. “This is the natural colour of my hair.”

“Pull the other one,” I said, rudely, “it’s got bells on. This is all the influence of your charming wife, isn’t it, old man?”

“Oh, yes,” he said, and his fish-eyes sparkled. I thought, hell, the fellow really is head over heels. A bit pathetic, really, in a way—I mean, clearly he was trying to keep up with his wife, who must be at least twenty years younger than himself. But you could hardly deny that it was doing him good. He really did look younger. Mind you, his dress sense hadn’t improved. He was still clad in shabby suits, limp, high-collared shirts and strangulating ties of muddy pattern. Maybe Dolores hadn’t started on that particular improvement, yet.

I burned with impatience all week. When Moffat didn’t show up for work on Friday—the first day in my memory that he’d ever missed—I was downcast, thinking our weekend event might be off. I called his flat as soon as I finished work. Dolores answered the phone. She had a low, pleasant voice: not sultry, exactly, but more assured than I’d expected. And attractive. In charmingly-accented English, she told me that Moffat had been a little unwell, but that he had recovered now, and that of course I must still come tomorrow. She was very much looking forward to it. She had so wanted to meet her husband’s friends. When I ventured to ask her how she was settling into England, she gave a little laugh and said it was early days yet, but she thought it might work. If ever you need anything, I began, and she interrupted me with another little laugh. Here is my husband, Mr Granger. I am sure he will be glad you called.

I didn’t stay long on the phone after that, beyond repeating unnecessarily to Moffat that I would see him tomorrow, that I was looking forward, etc, etc. I had an agitated night, with a good many strange dreams whose details I could not remember in the morning, and woke early. Time hung heavy till my appointment at Moffat’s. It was with great relief that I made my way there at last, armed with a bunch of flowers and a box of the most expensive chocolates I could afford. My heart was racing like an express train as I climbed the stairs of the building and knocked on the door of their flat.

Moffat opened the door. He was looking a little seedy, I thought. Not as in sick, but in tired. “I say, I was sorry to hear you’d been unwell.”

“Oh, thank you, it was nothing,” he said, a little uncomfortably, “just a touch of chill.” Liar, I thought, suddenly. I bet you just fancied a whole day tucked up in bed with your Spanish wife. But I was hardly going to say that, was I?

“Dolores is just making some coffee, she won’t be long,” he said, as he led the way to the sitting-room. I thought it might have changed, with a woman in the house, but apart from the fact that the devotional text had disappeared and been replaced by a Spanish fan, and there was a beautiful lace cloth on the low table, nothing much had changed. He looked owlishly at me. “It’s awfully good of you to come, old man. We …”

At that moment, the door from the kitchen opened, and she came in, a tray of coffee things in her hands. Moffat took it from her. I gave her the flowers. She smiled at me. “Thank you so much, Mr Granger.” She thrust her nose into the flowers. “These are so beautiful. I will put them in a vase at once.”

“A pleasure, Mrs Moffat.” I could hardly take my eyes off her. The photograph had not done her full justice. In the flesh, she was more than just handsome. She was one of the most attractive women I’d ever seen. Her hair was of that beautiful shade of blue-black you hardly ever see, curling softly over her ears. The irises of her large dark eyes were flecked irregularly, and most unusually, with a few bits of green, like black opals. Her nose was regular, her mouth full and red. She was very slim, and graceful, and didn’t dress at all as I’d half-expected, in a flouncy senorita-type getup or else severe Mediterranean black. Instead, she was simply but elegantly dressed in a dark-green skirt and high-necked, long-sleeved cream shirt. She wore no jewellery apart from small emerald drops in her ears, but the delicate hands that worked busily at arranging the flowers in their vase were covered with very fine black lace gloves—a dainty, modest touch that charmed me at once. All those things—well, you might get some idea of her—but it doesn’t convey the essential her. There was something about her—I don’t know how to describe it—something special. Unique.

“You must not call me Mrs Moffat. Must he not, Ken?” she said, turning to Moffat, using the Christian name I’d so rarely called him by that I had almost forgotten it existed.

“Of course he must not, darling.” He, too, couldn’t take his eyes off her. I thought his hand shook a little. He really did look seedy. “Call her Dolores, old man. She’d like that.”

“Certainly. If you will do me the honour of calling me Lewis,” I replied. Our eyes met. She smiled.

“Lewis.” She pronounced it in the Spanish way. Luis. “Will you please sit down?”

I sat. Truth to tell, I was in a daze. She could have said anything at all and I would have thought it was the wittiest thing anyone had ever said in the history of the world. She stretched out a black-lace hand to me, holding a cup, and I took it as though it were the Holy Grail. Our fingers touched briefly and I felt as though an electric charge had gone through me. I thought, wildly, this won’t do. This won’t do at all. This isn’t like me. I like women well enough, and they like me well enough. I’ve had a fair few affairs, but I’ve never met a woman I’d throw away caution for, let alone my freedom. It’s always seemed to me that tying yourself down to one of them for ever is like promising to always eat the same dish, day in, day out. I mean, even if it’s a good dish, you’re sure to tire of it, after a while. And there are so many flavours in the world.

But now, everything had changed. My world had collapsed. I didn’t even know what I was thinking. I could only feel. The desire for Dolores was like a fire, a raging hunger, coursing through me. Yet I knew I must hide it at all costs. At least from him. From Moffat.

Dimly, I heard myself saying, “It must be very different for you here, Dolores.” I tried not to linger over her name, tried to sound casual.

“Oh, it is,” she said. “but I am glad to be here, where it is safe.”

“It must have been very hard. All that fighting.”

“Yes,” she said.

“They wanted to kill her, you know,” said Moffat, suddenly. “The brutes! All because of her mother. She was Russian, you know. They thought that automatically made her a Red. Ignorant brutes!” He shook. “They … they had burnt her hands already … they were planning …”

“Ken rescued me,” said Dolores, quietly. One of her black-lace hands reached out to her husband’s knee and touched it, gently. I thought, so that’s why she keeps those on. Poor Dolores. “I will never forget it.”

I stared at him in stupefaction. Moffat, a knight in shining armour! The idea was absurd. I said, “How … what … what did you do?”

He hesitated, looked at her. She nodded. “Tell him, Ken. Tell him.”

“I … I didn’t fight them, or anything. There were too many of them, and I’m … well, not much good at that sort of thing. I gave them money. All the money I had. They … they said I had to take her away and never come back. They said she must never come back, or …” He swallowed, paled. “I didn’t understand all their jabber—but—but Dolores—she told me. She said they—they accused her of being a spy who had helped to slaughter a good many of their men. They said she had blood on her hands and that she would pay for it—that she was cursed, and that it would have been better if she had never been born.”

“There was so much blood,” said Dolores, quietly. “It sent them mad, I think. Human beings cannot take too much of it.” She looked down at her hands, her long lashes veiling her eyes. “This is a dark time. There will be a lot more death before it is over.”

I looked at Moffat and saw he was as white as a sheet and looked even more seedy. I felt pretty shaken myself by this sudden irruption of faraway savagery into the Holborn sitting-room. “You … you read about such things … but … I had no idea.”

Moffat burst out, harshly, “Nobody does. You must keep it to yourself, Granger. For Dolores’s sake.”

“I am sure Luis will keep our secret safe, dear husband,” said Dolores, gently, her great dark eyes on me. “He is our friend. Are you not, Luis?”

“Yes,” I said, “you can count absolutely on me,” but inside I raged. Why could it not have been me, in that Spanish town or village or whatever it was, rescuing Dolores from bloodthirsty madmen? I’d have fought for her, not just bought her, for heaven’s sake. I said, “I never understood—why did you go to Spain in the first place, old man? I mean, there’s a war on and everything, it’s not like it’s the best time to go on a tourist jaunt.”

To my surprise, he coloured. He looked at his wife. She smiled, but said nothing. At last, gruffly, he said, “You must promise me not to tell.”

“Another promise? Very well,” I said, hastily, when he looked mutinous. “I promise.”

“I had a dream,” he said, and I made him repeat it, thinking I’d not heard right. “I … can’t explain it. But I saw Dolores. She was begging for my help. I … I just had to go. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” I said, staggered. What! Old Moffat, grey Moffat, had had a dream—a vision, no less—and like some figure in romance, had gone rushing off to fulfil it, just like that? I could scarcely believe it. How could I have been so wrong about him?

I looked at Dolores, and caught a funny little smile on her lips. It was the kind of smile you give when you think no one else is looking. The sort of smile that says, well, I know the truth, but I’m not letting on, let him say what he likes, if it pleases him. It restored my balance, a little.

“Dolores said she saw me at the same time—in her dream,” went on Moffat, happily oblivious. “Amazing, isn’t it? Some things are meant to be.”

“Exactly,” I said, sagely nodding my head as though this kind of waffly schoolgirl mysticism was precisely the kind of thing I expected old sober-suits Moffat to come out with. I was rewarded by a little smile from Dolores, as if we understood each other in this game of humouring him, indulging him.

Rather to my relief, she then turned the talk into rather more ordinary channels—asking me first about London, then about my family, and my hobbies, and my opinions, all subjects on which I can speak at ease and at length. She did not speak any more about her experiences or origins—and I felt obscurely that blurting out what she had was a kind of test, that I had passed it, and that now she could feel more comfortable with me. At least, I dearly hoped so. I wanted something rather more than to be comfortable with her; but much as the impatience in my blood raged, my head was cooler and urged caution. I meant to make Dolores mine, and as soon as I could. Dolores, I thought, was fond of Moffat, grateful, but not in love with him. She might well turn to me, given the right encouragement. But he was completely possessed by her, body and soul. He might be capable of anything, if he suspected anything was going on. I could no longer trust to my old estimation of him as grey and precise and timid.

I would have to proceed carefully. I began my campaign by issuing an invitation to dinner at my place. I made sure everything was perfect—not a seducer’s den, but the home of a friend. Good, plain food, tasty and well-cooked. Good wine. Some fine music on the record-player. Good conversation. No talk of war or blood or dreams or anything of that sort. Dolores proved to be a reader, and so the talk soon moved to books. There, I had the advantage of Moffat, who’d never read more than those abridged classics. He sat there listening to us and smiling, twirling his wine-glass in his hand. He thought I was his friend. He was happy Dolores liked me. I’m not imagining it—he told me so the next day, in the office.

Then I was invited back to their place, and they to mine. Weeks went by. On fine afternoons, we sometimes went for long walks. I’m a good walker. So is Dolores. Moffat was slower. The brief spurt of youthfulness he’d enjoyed at the beginning of their marriage seemed to be over, and he was often out of breath. His skin was grey again, the colour in his hair had faded, there were occasional dark circles under his eyes. Tired, I thought, savagely, searingly. Tired from the effort of keeping up with a much younger wife … The thought made my stomach churn.

I had planned to one day, on some pretext or other, contrive to see Dolores on her own. But in the end, she made the first move. She called me one evening to say that Moffat had had to go out; something to do with an old aunt of his. She said she was feeling a little frightened on her own. Bad memories were crowding in on her. She felt blue. Would I mind very much if she came over, just for a little while?

Would I hell. It was exactly the kind of thing I’d hoped for but had never dared to expect. All during these long weeks, Dolores had behaved to me in the most friendly and open manner, but she had never really divulged anything more. Oh, I thought that once or twice I might have seen something in those extraordinary eyes, a kind of promise. But it might just have been a trick of the light.

Well, she came. She looked more beautiful than ever, in a red woollen dress and black coat. She had on her black lace gloves, too. I had never seen her without them.

I helped her off with her coat. I sat her down on the sofa, gave her a drink, put on some music. We talked. She had seemed jumpy, nervous, when she came in, but bit by bit she was relaxing. Then suddenly, she began to tell me about Moffat. That was what was worrying her. He was not well, she thought. He was having bad dreams. Muttering in his sleep. She thought he was changing his mind about her. She thought he was falling out of love with her. He got angry with her over nothing. He was no longer the man she thought she knew, she said, and the tears gleamed in her eyes. “Sometimes it’s as if he cannot bear my touch. I fear he may want to … to get rid of me. He could try to—to have me deported back to Spain.”

“What!” I said. “Oh no, Dolores. I’m sure that can’t be so. That would be evil—wicked. He could never do that. Never!”

She looked down at her hands. “But Luis, I am a foreigner. And I am alone here. I have no family to protect me, no …”

“You have me,” I said, hoarsely, snatching up one of her hands and putting it to my lips. “You have me, Dolores, and I would never—ever—let anything happen to you. Ever.”

She let her hand lie in mine. She said, softly, “You are kind, Luis.”

“I am not at all kind,” I growled, desperately. “I love you. I’ve loved you from the first time I saw you. I can’t stop thinking about you. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat properly. I can’t bear the thought of that grey little man with his paws on …” I bit so hard down on my lip that I could feel the blood come. I said, “Let me look after you, Dolores. Let me …”

“Oh, Luis,” she said, and in an instant, her lips were on mine, my senses reeling at the closeness of her, the taste of her mouth, the perfume of her body.

At that very moment came a thunderous knock on the door, and Moffat’s voice, shouting, “Dolores! Dolores! I know you’re in there! Open the door!”

Dolores flung herself from me, her face contorted with fear. “He’s going to kill me!” she screamed. “I know it! He must have followed me … Oh Luis … Luis … what am I going to do?”

“We’ll call the police,” I said. “We’ll call them at once.”

“No. No. It will just make him angrier.” She was twisting her hands together, her eyes like black holes in her white face, her lips, still slightly stained with my blood, the only vivid thing about it. She whispered, “We will have to let him in. It’s the only way, Luis.”

“What?” I said. But she had already gone to the door. She opened it; and he surged in. Well—that is to say, he fell in. He looked ghastly, too—much older than his real age. His hands shook, a vein throbbed in his neck. Dolores shut the door. He stood there in the hallway staring first at her, then at me. He said, “Old man, I hope I’m not too late.” He stared into my face, as if searching it for something. Then he gave a kind of low moan. He crumpled to the floor, his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. “Oh God, oh God … I’m sorry, old man. I’m so sorry …”

To say I was thunderstruck would be an understatement. I had no idea what he was talking about. I hated him, after what Dolores had told me. But seeing him there, so pathetic and abject, made my insides turn over. I didn’t hate him now. He disgusted me, but in a way, I pitied him. He had stepped too far out of his normal type—he had lived an adventure a man like him never should have had—and it had sent him crazy. That was the only explanation.

I motioned Dolores away, back to the sitting-room. I didn’t want her there, possibly in harm’s way from this wreck of a man. I knelt beside him. “Look, old man, you’re going to have to get up and …”

He didn’t stop rocking and moaning. I felt helpless. I had no experience with lunatics. I touched him timidly on the shoulder. “Look, old man—look, nothing’s happened. Nothing of the sort you think. She’s a good wife. And I’m your friend. We …”

He murmured. “I didn’t know, you see. Well, I didn’t understand. Not at first. And even when I did, it didn’t seem to matter. In fact, it was—God forgive me—it was exciting. But you see—I’ve realised now—that it does matter …” He grasped at my shirt, pulling me down to him. “We’ve got to kill her. Both of us. The way they were going to. It’s the only way. The stake. The burning. You understand?”

My heart leapt in my chest. I said, thickly, through the terrified disgust that engulfed me, “You don’t mean that, old man. You’re sick. I’ll get—we’ll call a doctor. It will be all right. You’ll see. You’ll see.”

“How old do you think she is, old man?”

The question was so unexpected it caught me quite off balance. I stared at him. “What … oh … oh, thirty-four or so, I imagine. Why do …”

“Try a little more.”

“Thirty-five, then,” I said, to humour him, keep him quiet. I wanted to get back to Dolores, to comfort her, to ring up the men in white coats to take the deranged creature away but I dared not leave him in case he tried to go for her.

He laughed. “Add a few more decades. A century or two.”

I exploded. “For heaven’s sake, man! What’s the matter with you?”

He went on, as if I hadn’t spoken. “It wasn’t Russia. It wasn’t her mother. It was Romania. It was her. Don’t you see? She’s old—ageless old. Undead. She came to Spain because of the war. The blood, do you see? So much blood, so easily available, without too much danger. They cannot help it, do you see, it’s in their nature, like a pulse. They must follow it—the scent of blood. She says there’s a smell, when a war is about to begin. She says her kind are always there, when it happens—hidden on the battlefields—ready, waiting in the hospitals—hovering … They’re not easy to pick, they’re not what you’ve read in the books, seen in films—many of them, like her, don’t mind the sunlight or mirrors or crucifixes or garlic or anything like that … She says there’s a stink all over Europe right now—every vile creature, every hidden, foul, unclean thing in Europe is going to come out in the open—and have a feast. They’ll be gorged, she says! Gorged! She says Spain is only the beginning … only the start.”

“My poor Moffat,” I said coldly, when the tirade had died down, “you are quite far gone, aren’t you? Let’s try and …”

He gave a little laugh. “Poor fool. You’ve got it badly. You don’t believe. But you will. And then you’ll think it won’t matter. You’ll be one with her. You’ll accept her fate gladly. But, old man—it does matter—it does—because you see … she’ll throw you away—she’ll use you and for a while you’ll be young again—you’ll be strong—but then it will all go—you’ll be a husk—a husk like me …”

“You revolt me,” I snapped. “You are a worm. A grey man, of no consequence. You don’t deserve her. I wouldn’t care what she is, what she’s done, you pathetic old madman. I would do anything for her. Anything, do you hear?”

He tried to make a grab at my shirt again. I pulled out of his grasp and struggled to my feet. He got up too. He made a lunge for me. “Old man …”

“Shut up!” I cried, and pushed him violently back. He stumbled, slipped, fell. I heard a sickening crack as his head hit the wooden floor.

I rushed over to him. I said, “Moffat! Moffat!” But he was gone. He was gone. Just like that, the fish-eyes still open in death, a thin trickle of blood coming from his mouth.

Behind me, I heard a rustling. Dolores. “It’s all right, darling,” I said. “It’s quite all right. He can’t hurt you any more.”

“Is he … is he …”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s dead.” I looked around at her. “Dolores, you are going to have to be very brave. We are going to have to get rid of the body. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” she said. Her eyes were enormous, fixed on the dead thing lying there. She whispered, “He has so little blood in him … so little …”

“He was a cold-blooded old devil,” I said, “that’s why. A nobody. You should have picked someone more your type. Young, strong. Hot-blooded. Like me.”

She sidled up to me and put a black-lace hand in mine. “Oh, Luis,” she said.

I turned fully towards her. I put a hand under her chin and looked into those beautiful, strange eyes. “You’ll have to help me,” I said, very quietly, “if I’m to help you. Can you do that?”

She nodded.

“Will you trust me?”

Another nod.

“Then will you take off those gloves, and let me see your hands?”

She looked up at me, her eyes huge, staring.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said, gently. “Please, Dolores, don’t be. “

She searched my face. She nodded, slowly. Then she took off her gloves, and though she peeled off the black lace, still it seemed, by some strange trick of the light, to have stayed on her skin, like delicate traceries of fine black hair, all over the back of her hands.

Time stood still between us. A flicker of unease came into her eyes. I thought that for the first time, perhaps, she wasn’t sure. But before she could speak, I picked up one of her hands, those pretty, fine hands with their delicate traceries of black hair, and I said, “It does matter, you know. But in the right sort of way, Dolores. In the right sort of way. I will go wherever you go—wherever you need to be. Nothing frightens me.”

Then I kissed her on each hand, first one, then the other, and hand in hand, we went back into the kitchen, and I made a pot of tea while we pondered what to do about Moffat. The good thing was that he had no family, no friends, no enemies. And his work colleagues would soon get used to his absence. He was such a grey little man. A nobody. His kind are never missed.

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