After a week or two there was no avoiding the fact that Paco Parra wanted Muriel all to himself. That was why he recommended a different beach to me, a beach that lay a bit further away; all you had to do was take the bus to the next village. Muriel shrugged her shoulders and said it was only for a few days, then he had to go off on a job and we would be alone again. So each day after breakfast I took the bus for about a kilometer. I had books and magazines with me and there was a bar right by the beach and I really didn’t have anything to complain about. I came home in the evening and then we spent a little time together, before Muriel and Parra would go out dancing or to a restaurant. Parra always had the foresight on those occasions to arrange for someone to bring me food from the bar.
Now and then they would ask me if I wanted to go out with them, but I declined.
Only one evening when they got back, everything was different. Muriel came into my room, sat at the furthest end of the bed and said everything had gone wrong and the only thing to do now was pack up and go home tomorrow. It had all turned to shit with Parra and that was the end of the sweet life both for her and for me.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“I haven’t got a fucking clue how to boil it all down for you. There are intimate matters involved. The kind of thing you don’t talk about to outsiders.”
“OK,” I said. “Then would you mind turning off the light when you leave and letting me sleep?”
“Hang on,” she said then. “I’ll tell you.”
It had all begun with her telling Parra about Andrés, her former boyfriend. He couldn’t cope when she broke it off with him because of Parra. He went crazy, started beating his fists against the wall and screaming that he couldn’t handle being without her. That’s what she did to men, Muriel. She warped their frontal lobes for them and they were never quite normal again for the rest of their lives. Andrés was no different.
“Stop it now,” she told him. “I’ve found someone else. A fifty-five year old man who is a lot richer than you.”
It was a really stupid thing to say, as she realized afterward—only everything was excused when you were in love, wasn’t it. And she hadn’t realized, had she, that Andrés was so deeply in love with her? Or that he had already planned out the whole of their lives together and even been to check out a house in a posh neighborhood, and in that sense was already living the life he had staked out with Muriel. So that was why he couldn’t cope with her saying goodbye. He had jumped her and attacked her. That was a really stupid thing for him to do, Muriel said, though at the same time it was all part of a kind of game they played.
“Hard to explain,” she said. “Anyway it turned out the way it did. And I didn’t think about it that much afterward.”
But recently one morning she had told Paco Parra about Andrés. What happened when she ended it, how he had attacked her and how it had all gone wrong. Parra had got up (they had been lying on a sand dune on the beach), brushed the sand off his Bermuda shorts and said, Fucking hell, Muriel, fucking hell, I just can’t believe what I’m hearing, I can’t live with the idea that someone did that to you. That is the lowest of the low, and blah blah blah—a load of moralistic drivel that didn’t sit well in a mouth like his—like picking a lovely rose and putting it on top of a trash dump or a dungheap, is about how appropriate those words were in Parra’s mouth, Muriel said.
“We’re going to get through this together,” he said as well. “You’re going to tell me exactly what happened and then we’re going to deal with it, we’ll get through it together and I will be there to support you all the way, you’re going to lean on me and I’m going to make sure you get over this.”
And Muriel started telling him what had happened, how Andrés had gone crazy and hit the walls and then come at her like a blazing torch. And what happened then? Parra said in her ear and his breathing just kept getting faster, what did he do then, how did he do it and in what way, to the point that he was so excited he got on top of Muriel and asked her to keep on telling him about it. And Muriel, who had been pretty shocked at first about how the whole thing was developing, soon stopped telling him exactly what had happened, because as she said she didn’t really have anything against Andrés (he was an asshole just like most men but no better and no worse), and began making things up instead.
So while the toad was lying on top of her, panting in her ear, she invented a new version of the whole thing and added a lot of details she wouldn’t want to admit to in the light of day, though maybe later on, until Parra came and he was lying beside her and he told her that that was the best fuck he had ever had.
He had asked all sorts of questions about Andrés. How long they had known one another, where he lived, what he looked like.
“OK,” Muriel said. “That I could deal with. It got him off, and that was fine by me. So far so good. I could live with that.”
She shook her head.
“It’s what happened afterward I can’t cope with. It was what happened next made me see red.”
The next day when Muriel got out of bed, it turned out that Parra had fixed her this killer breakfast. A load of weird yellow fruits that he peeled and fed to her. Then he dipped his fingers in the vanilla croissants and asked her to lick it off his fingers. Like a cat, he said. Do it like a cat. And Muriel had replied she might be able to do that at some other time of day but not in the morning because mornings were best reserved for your own needs. That was just the way she was. And if he didn’t like it, there was nothing she could do about it. In that case he had better put her on the bus and send for someone else. She couldn’t compromise on mornings.
“Of course,” said Parra then. “You’re so right, Muriel. You are the most mentally healthy person I have ever met.”
After that he left her in peace the entire morning and Muriel got more sleep, then walked down to the beach and checked out a guy of her own age who had been checking her back and then they had lain there continuing to check each other out until Parra suddenly appeared with a parasol and lilos and those yellow fruits that he had peeled once again and fed to Muriel. Then he had got out the vanilla croissants and said she could lick it off his fingers now, couldn’t she, and she had done it and the guy of her own age she had been checking out while lying there had turned his head away as though he found it disgusting. He hadn’t checked her out again after that and she had been feeling pretty pissed off even then, she said. The fact that he revolts me is one thing, she said, but ruining what could be my immediate future is not OK. So she was already feeling a bit annoyed. Then evening fell. Muriel and the toad went home and fucked as per usual. Then they had a shower, brushed their teeth (though that goes without saying, Muriel said to make things clear, sort of), and then they went and had dinner at a posh restaurant that must have been getting financial support from Paco Parra’s department to judge by the fuss the waiters made. They ate in peace and quiet, emptied a bottle of wine that Parra ordered and then they drank coffee and ate truffles.
“And then he suddenly announces he’s got a surprise for me.”
And Paco had got up, pulled out her chair, and she had gone ahead of him in the direction he was pointing and the waiters had bowed to them even though Parra hadn’t even paid. They had gone out the back way and into an old warehouse at the rear.
“What’s happening?” Muriel said.
“Don’t worry, darling,” the toad had replied. “Just trust me.”
At that point he had got out a black bandage and tied it across her eyes. Muriel said it felt like being in a gangster film. Then he had let her into a different room and it had smelled of fear, damp, and diarrhea inside.
“Voilà!” he had said finally. “Voilà, my darling.”
And then he had taken the bandage off from over her eyes and there on the floor, tied up and cowering in one corner, was Andrés.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Muriel said. “I couldn’t fucking believe it was him. And so fucking scared. You should have seen his eyes. And it smelled really bad besides. I bet he shit himself.”
And what Muriel was thinking, standing there, was that the toad would force them to fuck each other in front of him. He would sit in a chair, light a cigar and watch. And Muriel said she must have been so unbelievably shocked by the entire situation because all she could think about was that Andrés had shat himself and that the floor which was made of cement would be cold.
“Though,” she said. “I could have put up with that as well. If Andrés had been allowed to clean himself up and if the toad just wanted a bit of a show, I could have handled that too.”
Unfortunately it wasn’t that kind of little show the toad wanted. Because soon he was coming over to her, holding something behind his back and wearing a secretive expression on his face.
“Here,” he said and handed her a baseball bat.
Muriel didn’t have a clue. She just stared at the toad.
“What?” she said.
“Here,” said the toad. “Just let him have it.”
“What?” she said again.
I can just see her standing on that cement floor with the baseball bat in her hand. Her heels and those curls of hers that would have stopped bouncing around. Her obscenely narrow legs and the toad with his permanent erection pressing against the lining of his trousers. Andrés in his leather jacket, scared stiff in the corner.
“You want me to hit him?” she said to the toad.
“Depends what you mean,” the toad had said then. “It’s not about what I want, Muriel. It’s about what you need.”
“What I need?”
“That little bastard raped you.”
“He abused you.”
“You can get your own back now. He can’t do anything to you. You should beat him black and blue. That’s what you ought to do. I can’t do it for you because it’s your anger you need to deal with. Only now I am giving you the chance, it’s my present to you because I love you so bloody much. I love you so bloody much, Muriel, that some days when I wake up it hurts in my chest. And I am who I am, with all my failings, all the other baggage that being a person entails, but I want to give you this now. If you want to humiliate him in some other way, just say the word. I can ring Vincent and Álvaro and they’ll come and help. It’s your night, my darling, you decide. Your night, tonight.”
And Muriel stood there looking from Andrés to the toad and back to Andrés again.
“I could have hit him myself,” the toad said again. “But there are things no one else can do for you, things you have to do on your own.”
That’s when Muriel felt the anger. So she said. That’s when I felt the anger, and it came burning up from my toes and it was red-hot. It flew up my legs like buckshot. I felt shaky all over and as if I was about to fall over my platform shoes. Then I raised the baseball bat. And I can still see the expression on the toad’s face, that self-satisfied toad grin, thinking he’s done something right and I’ll suck him off again tonight. I can remember that look and how lost and sort of distorted it got when he saw I wasn’t walking over to Andrés but towards him. It was so incredibly fucking satisfying, Araceli, to be able to drive that bat into Parra’s face. Fuck, it was so bloody satisfying, Ara, let me tell you. And she had thumped him as hard as she could until Vincent and Álvaro ran in and helped their boss get away from her. She must have screamed as well because in the car on the way back Vincent told her she had broken his eardrum and that Parra was legally obliged to pay damages for that.
When she had finished telling me, we lay there in silence. I asked if he was lying in there, all bruised, and if we would be going home tomorrow. Only Muriel didn’t answer me. Instead she said she could tell me the deepest and truest truth about men, a sort of open sesame I could carry with me forever. If I swore not to tell anyone, that is. I swore. I lay in bed and she leaned over me and I was expecting her to whisper something perverse in my ear. Along with the sea outside that would be one of the most perfect moments of my holiday.
First published 2012 as Bret Easton Ellis och de andra hundarna by Albert Bonniers Förlag, © Lina Wolff 2012. From Bret Easton Ellis and Other Dogs, forthcoming 2016 from And Other Stories. By arrangement with the publisher. Translation copyright © Frank Perry 2016. All rights reserved.