Oct/Nov 2021  •   Fiction

Anis del Toro (Circa 1927)

by Jenny Falloon

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

"Big ones?" I asked, from the doorway.

"Yes. Two big ones."

The girl didn't look big enough to drink a big one. She'd put her hat on the table after they sat down. It was hot. She had fair hair and blue eyes. And she was thin. But we were all thin in those days, after the War. English? Dutch? He was American. The train from Barcelona to Madrid was due in 30 minutes.

I brought them two big glasses of beer and put them on the table on felt pads. The tables get dirty without the pads.

They sat and looked across the river at the hills. As I say, it was hot, and they must have been glad to sit down. They talked, and then they were arguing, something about elephants, but my English is not good, so I couldn't follow. I thought they'd be fine for a while with the beers, and there was no one else in the café, so I went back behind the curtain and started to wash the dishes.

Then the American called "Listen!" Where did he get the idea you call a waitress with Listen? I could see by the labels on their suitcases they had been all over Spain. And France. That's not how we do it here. I guessed he wanted to pay the bill, so I went out to the table, drying my hands on the towel.

"Four reales," I said, without smiling.

But the girl wanted to try Anis del Toro. She had been looking at the bead curtain with the sign, the ad, for the drink.

"We want two Anis del Toro," he said.

"With water?" I asked.

I could see I was going to be bringing them new drinks every few minutes. Americans have so much money. New drinks, new places, new women. It's all new to them. Everything. They're tasting the world now. And is it good enough? No. It's never good enough.

Then the girl wanted to know whether it was good with water, and they talked about that. And I didn't have all day, so I said again, "You want them with water?"

I've had it myself a few times. With water. It tastes like licorice. Pedro offers me one sometimes before I go home, when everyone has gone and the bar is empty, if the take for the day has been good and he's in a good mood. I drink it down in a gulp, to please him. That way, I don't have to stay and listen while he tells me his wife doesn't understand him or brush him off when he tries to paw me. But I wish he'd give me the money instead.

I brought them two glasses of Anis del Toro with water, and then I went back into the kitchen. I had work to do—the train would be here in 20 minutes, and we would get some business, although not a lot. I had to make fresh coffee and cut up the potatoes and the onions for the tortillas. But I watched them for a few minutes.

"You don't have to be afraid," he said, putting his hand over hers on the table. "I've known lots of people that have done it."

"So have I," she said. She didn't pull her hand away, but there was no smile. She was pretty, and they were in love. But soon he would be in love with someone else. "And afterward they were all so happy."

Now I knew, of course. Now I knew. And it was a lie, a big lie. They weren't all happy. She wanted to please him, but she was suffering. Inside. And I was angry. Male pleasure, striding about the world, taking what it wants and leaving a mess for the woman—the girl—to clean up. Then something new, someone new.

They talked a little more, but I couldn't understand much of it, even though I speak a little English in the bar every day. Then I heard her say, as though she had been thinking a lot and had decided. Finally.

"Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't care about me."

Then she got up and walked down the platform to where the station ends. He watched her, her skirt swaying as she walked. He was getting impatient.

"Come back here in the shade," he said. "It's hot. You mustn't feel that way. We'll have another beer."

I went to get two more beers. The Americans leave a nice tip, one good thing about them. You need to be ready always, for the something new they are always wanting.

"The world isn't ours anymore," she said, back at the table. "Once they take it away, you can never get it back." I think she was tired of all the talking. She just wanted him to be quiet.

I put the beers on the table on felt pads and took away the empty glasses. Then I said, to remind them, "El tren a Madrid llega en cinco minutos."

She didn't understand, so he said it to her in English. She smiled at me to thank me.

Walking home that night, I wished I'd smiled back. What would that have cost me? I'm jaded. I've been a waitress at the café for years. They were just another couple with money and a train to catch who had made a mess of things. But he loved her or said he did. She smiled at him, as they were getting up to leave.

"There's nothing wrong with me," she said. "I feel fine."

I think I've seen it all. But I haven't. There is always something new.