The Secret Shop
by Eugenio Prados
Translated by Reed James
“My father…Did he die?”
“That's correct,“ said the president, as if Ana had asked her if it was hot. “But from your mother’s tone of voice, I got the impression that he wasn’t someone who lived with you. She talked about him as if he were a stranger.
“My mother has always hated him,” said Ana dryly to stifle the president and assimilate what she had just heard.
“I’m not surprised that she hates him… Or that she hated him. He abandoned you when you were a child.”
“Did my mother tell you that?”
The smile remained ever anchored on the lips of Victoria Vargas, as if someone was going to photograph her at any time.
“From what little you’ve explained to me, it sounds like he was a real piece of work! His work required him to be away from home all the time. Until one day he left and didn’t come back. What was his line of business exactly?”
“He had an antique shop,” answered Ana automatically. That was the answer that she had made up as a girl when she wanted to explain her father’s continuous absences. Dad was very busy with the store and couldn’t be with her.”
“Hmm. Ex-husbands,” said the president looking up in frustration. I know all too well what men of his kind are like.”
Then she shut up, as if she had realized that that information was unnecessary. Her mouth widened.
“Ángeles…, dear… Sorry…, Ana. You have to know that we’re here for whatever you need. At this university, not only do we guide the men and women of tomorrow, we also take care of the needs of this school in the present.” We look after and protect them.
Hearing that new piece of baloney was the last straw.
“Do you ever wipe that stupid smile off your face?”
The president heard her, but pretended she hadn’t.
“What was that, dear?”
“You could at least save that fake pleased-to-meet-you smile for when I’m gone. Then you could let out a sigh for having gotten rid of that nuisance. Because that’s what I am, right? How unlucky to have had to tell a student that her father died. As if you cared!”
Victoria Vargas trailed her pinkie finger along the corner of her mouth and scraped off a lipstick smudge.
“Dear, after talking with your mother for a while, only one thing is clear to me: your father is, was and will always be someone not worth shedding a single tear over.”
Ana was consumed with rage. She thought it was the perfect time to say four things to that woman who, without any consideration, had decided to judge her, and even worse—her father. She wanted to make a ruckus and be kicked out of the university. She couldn't image a better gift.
She was about to take a step forward, when someone knocked on the door. It was Joaquín.
Ana didn’t look. Her eyes were trained on the president. She wanted to absorb the hypocrisy that dwelled in her.
The president returned her gaze. The janitor’s visit was just what she hoped for. It meant that he was going to confirm something that they had previously discussed. It would be her small victory over that conceited brat. A poor and insignificant student. She let Joaquín speak.
“The girl’s mother is here.”
The president's shone in full splendor. With legs identical to a flamingo’s, she got up and went back to her stock phrases.
“Again, please accept my condolences. We’re here for you for whatever you need.”
Ana bit her lip sharply when Victoria Vargas patted her arm as a goodbye.
A second later, they were outside the office.
In the hall, a figure was outlined by the sun that shined through a window. She was very quiet, with her purse in one hand and a cloth handkerchief in the other. Ana wanted to get a feel for that person’s mood, but it had always been tough to decipher it.
“Mom…,” she said, wanting to push away the coldness that always enshrouded them both, fling herself at her and embrace her.
But the woman didn't budge. She waited for Ana to check her impulse.
“Come on,” she said. “I’m double parked.”
And, turning on her heels, she made for the exit.
Ana was left with her arms outstretched in the air. The muggy air seeped through every pore. Seeking a glimmer of kindness, she turned around, waiting again for the figure of Joaquín. But he was no longer there.
So, faced with that empty corridor, she felt something she hadn’t realized before: the sensation that she was being watched. Like, even before learning her father’s death, all eyes had been fixed on her. And as if the veil that had surrounded the life of Jean-Jacques Fauré during all this time was beginning to rip apart.
“Could she know how his life had been? What was his work really about. The reason for his disappearance? Why he abandoned her one day?
Ana wanted to know all that, but at that moment, she was not aware that with Jean-Jacques Fauré’s last breath, a new life began for her.