Modesto, his head, between Lucrecia’s legs, rising from the bottom of the tub before submerging again. “I’d like to sing at the top of my lungs, Lucre.”
“He’s saying exactly what I feel,” Don Rigoberto interjected, then permitted himself a joke: “Wasn’t he risking pneumonia with all that hydro-erotic exertion?”
He laughed and immediately regretted it, again remembering that humor and pleasure repel each other like water and oil. “Please excuse the interruption,” he apologized. But it was late. Doña Lucrecia had begun to yawn in such a way that the diligent engineer, summoning all his fortitude, stopped what he was doing. On his knees, dripping water, his hair streaming down in bangs, he feigned resignation.
“You’re tired, Lucre.”
“I’m feeling all the weariness of the day. I can’t stay awake anymore.”
She leaped lightly from the tub and wrapped herself in the robe. From the door of her room she said good night with words that made her husband’s heart skip a beat: “Tomorrow is another day, Pluto.”
“The last one, Lucre.”
“And the last night, as well,” she said with precision, blowing him a kiss.
They began Friday morning half an hour late, but they made up for it on their visit to Murano, where, in hellish heat, artisans in T-shirts with prison stripes were blowing glass in the traditional manner, turning out decorative or household objects. The engineer insisted that Lucrecia, who did not want to make further purchases, accept three little transparent animals: a squirrel, a stork, and a hippopotamus. On the way back to Venice the guide enlightened them about two villas by Palladio. Instead of lunch, they had tea and cakes at the Quadri, enjoying a blood-red twilight that set roofs, bridges, water, and bell towers on fire, and they reached San Giorgio for the concert of baroque music with enough time to stroll around the little island and view the lagoon and the city from different perspectives.
“The last day is always sad,” Doña Lucrecia remarked. “Tomorrow this will end forever.”
“Were you holding hands?” Don Rigoberto wanted to know.
“We were, and during the entire concert as well,” his wife confessed.
“Did the engineer weep great tears?”
“He was extremely pale. He squeezed my hand and his sweet eyes glistened.”
“In gratitude and hope,” thought Don Rigoberto. The “sweet eyes” reverberated along his nerve endings. He decided that from this moment on he would be silent. While Doña Lucrecia and Pluto ate supper at Danieli’s, contemplating the lights of Venice, he respected their melancholy, did not interrupt their conventional conversation, and suffered stoically when he realized, in the course of the meal, that Modesto was not alone in his lavish attentions. Lucrecia presented him with toast that she had buttered, with her own fork she offered him mouthfuls of her rigatoni, and she willingly gave her hand when he raised it to his mouth to rest his lips on it, once on the palm, once on the back, once on the fingers, and each one of her nails. With a fearful heart and an incipient erection, he waited for what was bound to happen.
And in fact, as soon as they entered the suite at the Cipriani, Doña Lucrecia grasped Modesto’s arm, put it around her waist, brought her lips up to his, and, mouth to mouth, tongue to tongue, she murmured, “To say goodbye, we’ll spend the night together. With you I will be as compliant, as tender, as loving as I’ve been only with my husband.”
“You said that?” Don Rigoberto swallowed strychnine and honey.
“Did I do wrong?” his wife asked in alarm. “Should I have lied to him?”
“You did the right thing,” Don Rigoberto howled. “My love.”
In an ambiguous state in which arousal clashed with jealousy and each fed on the other retrospectively, he watched them undress, admired the selfconfidence displayed by his wife, enjoyed the clumsiness of that fortunate mortal overwhelmed