The streets of San Telmo are dirty, littered with evening remnants – cigarette butts, beer bottles, a crumpled pair of red panties – and you step carefully, weaving amogst the landmine of debris, listening to your heels clicking on the cobblestones. You wish you had a Valium, a gun, a trench coat full of fake Rolexes – anything to make you in this moment less mundane and desperately normal than you are. The smell of urine hangs in the air. You walk by a homeless man curled up, snoring on the sidewalk. You see no taxis. You walk.
Earlier you refused to dance, sulking in a corner, sipping wine, because you knew you could not be led – could not pretend to enjoy a strange man’s hand around your waist, pressing into you telling you to step or move your hips, his eyes softening in approval when you cede to his guidance. You watched your friends dancing and smiling and laughing, and silently critiqued them and their bodies and everything they were doing. Marta’s hips have widened at least five inches either way, and Becky has developed adult acne, since college. Jess looks fantastic and her music career has taken off, to all of your surprise, but you reminded yourself as she leaned backward, lifting one leg dramatically as her dance partner supported her with strong arms, that Jess and her husband fight constantly and are both having affairs that the other knows about.
At dinner, you devoured your steak quickly and lit a cigarette. When asked, you delivered several details about your work life, omitting the part about the creative director, your boss, repeatedly asking you out to drinks and giving you suggestive glances. When you finished speaking, you resumed your bored posture of head-on-elbow-on-table, tuned out while Allison expounded on things like floral arrangements, the atheist ceremonial officiant, plans to buy an apartment downtown. You still had not told Allison, or any of the other bridesmaids, that you will not be attending her “big day.”
That knowledge resides heavy in your belly now, a grumbling ache that has married with the bloody meat, a fire that only glass after glass of Malbec can extinguish. Now the wind whips around you – isn’t it supposed to be warm in South America – and you are stumbling, each heel landing in a moment of precarious wobbling, your body pushing through the dense air like a knife through thick jelly. The ache is somewhat bearable after so many Malbecs. And after the musician.
He played Bob Dylan and you raised your glass at him, and he winked. Your friends elbowed you, said Go for it. At that point you didn’t know where you were, had followed your friends blindly walking through the streets after the meal; you didn’t care. You were there and he was there and he was Uruguayan, sexy in that run-down way, and he whispered into your hair, stuck a hand of the back of your shirt, bought you a Fernet. Americana, he said in his throat, as if uttering the name of the devil.
His apartment was tiny but clean, pretty little paintings on the walls, to which he mumbled something about an ex-novia. Under rumbled sheets he seemed pleased with your body, ran his lips and hands over it in a way that you could not help but think was completely Latin, fiery and uncensored, yet so, so deliberate, so strong.
Dawn has, finally, completely broken and a newspaper delivery truck creeps along ahead of you, drowning out the sound of your heels. Bundles fly out from the truck cabin. You stoop down, pick one up, unwrap it, examine the pictures, try to discern the headlines. La president dice que . . . you interpret as, A president dices what. Dices what? You are laughing, imagining a president dicing a tomato, when a security guard approaches the door you are blocking, casting a tired eye at you, you the vermin of the night. You say to him Buenos dias, the only Spanish you know. He says nothing. You rise, continue walking, unsure of where, though the hotel name and address is written on a card in your wallet. The street opens onto a large road, and a bus unloads people. Their tired morning faces step out of the vehicle, one by one, and move away, toward wherever they will spend the day laboring. The expression is one familiar to you. You board the bus, giving the driver a few American quarters. He sighs, waves you on. People stare at you. Probably your chin is smeared with lipstick. You are glad. Let them see you as you are. The city awakens and unfolds beyond the dirty window of the bus, and you smile through the white specks, whatever they are – spittle? – at an old man as he unstacks crates that covered his fruit stand overnight. He waves casually in return.
Maybe, you think, instead of telling your friends the real reason why you cannot attend Allison’s wedding, you will tell them that you have decided to move here. You have fallen in love with the Uruguayan musician and want to learn Spanish, and of course, tango. You will be so happy here, they will say. We’ll all come visit. You will agree, say you always wanted to learn tango; it is such a beautiful dance.