Normally when there is a queue of women waiting turns in the carnicería I stand outside until most have left the shop. They gossip and tell all the scandal of the village, jabbering away in the local dialect. After so many years on the island, I understand only too well most of what is said. Like most isolated country towns anywhere in the world, the accent is a bit rough. I know many in the capital city who speak the language, and theirs is much more elegant, especially when spoken by more educated citizens. But here it is hard, whining and boisterous at the same time, spoken in a shout and as rapid as a spin dryer.
Usually the talk was about other Mallorcan villagers, depending on which families were represented at that moment while Marguerita prepared the cuts ordered. As might be expected, the town was divided by very intricate relationships. One had to know who was who, or go easy criticizing the work of a carpenter, say, or a gardener who cared for your lemon trees and oranges. You might know someone only by given name, or perhaps given name and first surname, but everyone one had two surnames – the first his father’s surname, the second his mother’s surname. To complicate things further, the woman kept their surnames after marriage, so you might not know if she were married or to whom. If she had children, they bore her husband’s first surname plus her first surname, so amongst the villagers, everyone knew who was whose child, who were cousins, and so on.
Other times, the ladies would go on about the behavior of one of the foreigners living among them, looking around first to see if any were within earshot who might understand. You could always tell, because they dropped their voices a bit and put their heads closer together, if it was about the outrageous goings on.
It was a quagmire for an outsider.
Nevertheless, James could not stop listening, try as he might.
On this particular day, they were talking about the neighbor just across the street whom some called Señor Maria – not Señora, mind you. She was a tough single woman who dealt in slightly shady property transactions. She also had a handsome dapper lover, sturdy lawyer type who came on up from his family in Palma on weekends. She would open the door of number 76, next to me, when he parked on the highway. And with her straw cesta drove off and they disappeared, climbing the stony road to their trysting place, a stone cottages up on the mountains.
“What shameful behavior,” the second lady in line said in a harsh whisper. This was Marguerita, who laundered sheets at the open lavandera down in the Clot. A face like a forlorn donkey.
“And what about his wife? These city folks can get away with anything, if they’ve a mind for it.”
Marguerita, laying out a scrawny cock on the chopping block, he neck hanging off the edge like a penis with eyes and a beak, mumbled her approval. “That’s the way they are, all right.”
She lifted the cleaver and brought it down with a solid thunk. The neck and head dropped into the blue plastic bucket of offal.
“That’ll teach him,” Little Antonia said, the one in front with thick glasses.
There came a sigh of agreement from the other ladies, and I felt like I needed a cigarette.
At the questioning glance from Marguerita, whose hand was already reaching inside to rip out the guts of the fowl, she said “Yes. I’ll use it in soup. Cut off the crest and beak, please. And throw away the gizzard.”
I found two versions of this story that diverge dramatically about halfway through. This is the newer one, dated 12 Apr 2016. I’ll provide the second variation of 17 Feb ’14 another day.
Patrick Meadows 1934 – 2017.