The Liberator

Yves sat fuming at a corner table in Las Palmeras.  His scowl did not invite you to so much as say hello.  He stared at the empty coffee cup, thinking so hard you could almost hear his thoughts.  If you had, and you understood French, you might not want to hear those thoughts.

Yves’ restaurant, with Monique at far right

Two days had passed since his wife had walked out with a painter and sculptor named Fuchs.  Almost everyone in the village knew it was happening before it happened, and everyone knew it had happened before Yves knew it.  That’s where his thoughts were at the moment.  What a fool he must have seemed to the whole foreign colony, and to half the Mallorcans.  His closest friends had said nothing.  It was going on right under his nose, you might say.

While he was sweating under his chef’s toque, a gourmet cook cooking for gourmands, his wife was delivering promises to Fuch’s table along with the paté, vin rouge and all the rest.  When he was just after dawn selecting produce and fish in the Palma market, his wife was being Fuched, as some citizens would put it. Yves didn’t notice the far away look as Monique handled the vegetables before chopping.  Nor did he think twice when after kitchen closing, when he made the rounds to offer the last customers a chupito, that she was always seated at Fuchs’ table, just buttering up a good customer, so he thought.

But now he cursed fluently to himself, thinking thoughts thicker than roux, more bitter than gourd, more volatile than cognac in a hot skillet.  Not that she was gone, a runaway wife, or that Fuchs was twenty years older than he, famous and who knows, maybe rich.  What galled him was that he had been too thick to notice that his so-called friends had been watching the whole comedy, letting him be  the clown of the show.  His vanity was wounded beyond healing, unless he could come up with a scheme to rehabilitate his self image, to have the last laugh.

I have always had a soft spot for what was known as the French restaurant.  Stephanie and I rented the basement room of our house to the restaurant as a storeroom for cold produce and fish.  In the early days, we often took groups there after concerts in the church.

Occasionally Yves, the cook and owner, held cultural events in the off season.  A typical evening, for instance, was a poetry reading led off by Lady June reading her latest collection, Linguistic Leprosy. Then  Ronnie Wathen played the uilleann pipes and recited from his  “My Shame in Crowds”. He was followed by  Daevid Allen reading from a long  screed about California sliding into the sea for its sins.  Ronnie ripped the scroll from Daevid’s hands, tearing it into pieces.  Yves and others wrestled Ronnie away and Daevid continued his chant.

Meanwhile Ronnie disappeared into the restroom where he proceeded to kick loose the plumbing, flooding us out.  Ronnie left the restaurant on his back, Yves moving him along with kicks.

Monique had been gone for nearly a month.  Winter had arrived, and the restaurant shut down, so we didn’t see much of Yves.  Sometimes he did appear in the bar Las Palmeras, where he did not seem to welcome company.  A few of the footloose young ladies in the village obviously had their eyes on him, but so far as we could see from our window overlooking the bar, none had yet started to move in.  Everybody knew it was merely a matter of time till Yves would realign his sentiments. He was an attractive man in his thirties, and sooner or later one of the nubile ladies would edge into the circle of gloom he cast about himself. But there had to be a period of waiting, since wayward wives often reappeared at awkward moments, and hell could break loose.

Occasionally, when Stephanie and I took Lili out for an evening walk, we would see him sitting at one of the tables in his restaurant with the fireplace ablaze, working at something by candlelight.  Poor guy, we commented to each other.  Probably can’t stand being at home alone.  Some of us had invited him to private gatherings, hoping to cheer him up, and possibly as a side benefit give girls a shot at a liaison.  He showed up dutifully at one of Gita’s famous bashes down in the Clot, but he sat glumly in a corner and put such a downer on the party that we all gave up on him for a while.

So when Yves posted an announcement on the carpenter’s door, which we all used as a bulletin board, to the carpenter’s chagrin, the whole colony gave a collective sigh of relief.  About time he stopped wallowing in it, that was the feeling. It was a dreary Saturday in November that we all assembled for some of his tasty tidbits and free wine.

The foreign colony was out in force.

Lady June was the first to bubble hopefully in, a bundle of new doggerel in her straw basket.  Ronnie the bagpiper straggled in with his pipes, but Yves had not forgotten the busted plumbing, and told him to get lost.  Daevid showed up in his pixie hat, and his wife with her panther whiskers in place, though she had left the tail at home.  Alfred came in stuttering, already two sheets to the wind, and complaining, it was not clear about what.

As usual, since he would not be the center of attention, Robert Graves did not show his shaggy head.

Soon the place was buzzing with conversation and awash with curiosity.  What is the occasion, we all wanted to know.  Obviously not a poetry reading, or performance.  Otherwise some sort of space would have been set up. No new paintings on the walls, the usual roosters and such by Diana, a few fallen columns by Brian.  So it wasn’t an impromptu exhibition.

Corks popped and wine flowed. Tray after tray of finger food arrived from the kitchen, brought out by Chloë, a local Lolita in the making.  Her presence aroused certain speculations amongst us.  Was she merely making a little money helping out, or was this a new source of rumor and gossip?

Ronnie was driven away again and again. Music came over the speakers, something classical, low in volume.

The painter Mati Klarwein was the last to arrive.  He felt somewhat guilty, since it was he who brought Fuchs, his mentor in Vienna, to the village with such a fateful effect.

As if his arrival was the signal to begin, Yves took his place next to the chimney.  Until now I had not noticed there was a curtain covering the fireplace.  Yves gave a signal to Chloë behind the bar, and she flipped a switch.  A spotlight focused on the chimney, and Yves gestured to Chloë to take a place on the other side of the chimney from where he stood.

“Welcome, all my friends, to this celebration.  I was going to read some poems and meditations on the nature of love.  But Chloë gave me some good advice.”  They glanced at each other. “She said in elementary school she learned to show and tell was better than just telling.”

At that moment, as though it was all rehearsed just so, the piped-in music swung into Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.  Chloë pulled a tasseled cord that opened the curtain over the fireplace.

And there was revenge and delight all in one package: a red clay bust of the man who absconded with Yves’ wife.

The inscription on the plinth read Fuchs Liberador.

That’s when laughter joined the sound of champagne corks popping, and we learned that Yves was a sculptor, that Chloë was his new woman, and that he had remembered how to smile.

He didn’t even object when Ronnie set his bagpipe to wheezing and entered the door on a reel.