What they did there

By María Rosa Lojo


Juan Manuel Pampín

Gerente General

About the book:

What they did there is a collection of short stories that fit together into a narrative puzzle in which Argentinian tragedies and struggles are deeply entwined with chance. As men and women perform their dance of desire, pain and violence, readers will be captured by the intensity and magic of each piece.



Her beauty was precise and gently cold. Like Claire Underwood, but dark-haired. She looked sideways into the distance, not at the man who was browsing, with anticipated arousal, the book with the shiny photos.

“Only the best, for the most demanding customers,” the head receptionist had almost whispered into his ear as he put in his hands a leather covered volume that passed as an account book.

He opened it in his room on the second night, after loosening his belt and taking off his shoes and socks. He’d ordered a whisky on the rocks to serve as sullen company to the female offer hidden under the covers.

He wasn’t particularly into whores, though. He’d slept with some when he was very young, before committing to an early and everlasting marriage, as most marriages used to be for his generation. He had survived, she hadn’t.

He was now traveling the provinces on his own, from convention to convention, from conference to conference, moving into comfortable four or five-star hotels; most were newly built and very similar to each other. Except for this one; “King Arthur” didn't belong to any international chain. Someone had told him it was a “boutique hotel”, furniture with a Victorian flair, plasma TVs concealed behind tiny wooden doors, real roses on the desk. A vintage setting that soothed him, an imaginary home, maybe dreamed of or read about in a novel.

The side view of the woman, perfect and frozen, was somehow soothing, though her mere presence clashed with the catalog of obvious flesh with tiny lace or sateen lingerie.

The first photo showed her in formal clothes. She was wearing a two-piece suit, light in color, somewhere between cream and beige. Her cleavage was deep, but not a single thread of her brassiere was visible. One could assume that her breasts were naked under the raw linen jacket, that if she were to pull apart her impeccably crossed legs, like Sharon Stone, a wild darkness of pubic hair would peek out from under her short skirt. But nothing was pulled apart and nothing peeked out. Her right hand, with discreetly coated nails, laid on top of her bright silk stocking. A white gold ring matched her choker.

The next photo was bolder. She was standing, presenting the same side, with her arms on a balustrade overlooking the sea. Her body was slim and long under the muslin robe; her breasts with no implants, tiny, covered by a small and barely embroidered bra, were not brought together. That is why they could be guessed without scandal under the raw linen of the previous photo. The staging looked organized and eye-pleasing, almost like an 18th century garden.

Those were her only photos, while every other woman had, at least, three or four. They all conformed, indeed, a taste canon, maybe imposed by the style of the hotel. None of them showed more than what lingerie models would exhibit on huge freeway billboards, but these exceeded haute couture sizes and looked more like showgirls. He was surprised by her modesty. The tones were soft; pearl gray, glossy mink, off-white, dusky pink. Or classic black and white. There were no depraved insinuations. No dominatrix with S&M toys, nobody dressed as a school girl with a ponytail biting a lollipop with white teeth and filled lips, intentionally bare. They were categorical and correct, with no ulterior motives. Mouth-watering and rich fruits hanging from a tree at their peak of ripeness. None of them was much over thirty; none—he chose to believe—was under eighteen.

The woman in profile was, undoubtedly, the only one that was older. It was hard to tell how older she was, in a world that no longer sold images without prior Photoshop editing. But there was some undefinable air about it that added a soft patina of an antique store to the formal clothes and the controlled display. At the feet of her images there was a name also unusual, Geneva. The Swiss city. Or Genevieve, Camelot’s unfaithful lady and queen. A pseudonym, a war name, befitting the trade. The choice was not vulgar, compared to Jessica, Cynthia, Dana or Diana at the base of the other portraits. Yet it also seemed logically ironic, given the name of the premises.

He was surprised to learn that Geneva was also the hardest one to get. He had no choice but to accept a date on his last night, even though he was very upset by the imminence of the trip to the neighboring city where he had lived once. Another cocktail was waiting for him there, another symposium and also the anniversary of the accident that had taken their youngest child from them.

Maybe the sexual distraction could save him from the long insomnia, yet failure seemed likely. He was over sixty, erections were rare and didn’t last without chemical aid. The last time had been disappointing. A movie night out with a friend of her late wife, which ended up in the sheets. Neither of them could do much more than think of their lost ones with sorrow or rage. She had died and he had abandoned his wife, not ugly nor disgusting, who was crying next to him.

How would he welcome his guest? He slept in striped cotton briefs, a bit out of style, thighs free, and a tank top. He decided to buy a robe at the hotel store and replace his briefs with light blue modern boxers, matching the faded color in his pupils. His wife would have liked it. She did pay attention to those details, which were meaningful for a lover, but irrelevant for a whore.

Two hours before the encounter, he took a Cialis pill. He took a thorough shower. He fixed his beard, clipped his nails both in his hands and his toes; he trimmed the hairs that grew asymmetrical from his nose. He gave up, once again, on his belly, one of an aging man who was slightly overweight and had a careless diet. Suddenly, the room that had seemed nice and almost homey felt ridiculous and old-fashioned. Maybe it was the only appropriate setting for someone who was also going back in time as if he had never existed, someone who was about to disappear from the mirror and from reality.

By the time the doorbell rang, he had fallen asleep on the pillows, with the remote in his hand. When he opened the door, he thought he was still dreaming. The woman from the catalog was on the doorstep wearing the same clothes and making the same pose she had in the photograph that introduced her. From the side, with eyes looking off into a distance and now seemed to get lost in some unspecific point at the end of the hallway.

“Good evening. I’m Geneva.”


Translated by Sebastián Gutiérrez - Edited by Laura Estefania