Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Last Tango in Past Tense

“You’re supposed to let me lead” he says, unable to hide the frustration in his voice as he pulls away from me.

I drop my hands, equally frustrated. I had thought a dance class would be a fun ‘couples activity’ for us, more intimate than sitting silently in a movie theater, less intimate than the horizontal mambo (not that we hadn’t indulged in THAT). It had been enjoyable at first, but his constant desire to practice the tango over and over again was lessening my desire to spend time with him. I was starting to feel like a possession, as if the only reason for us being together was to dance the tango. The tango is a very male dominated dance, with the man moving the woman around the dance floor; she’s supposed to wait for him to initiate her actions. The tango position is called” The Embrace”; the dancers’ bodies are pulled close together, the man’s right hand placed around the woman’s back, the woman’s left hand placed above his right bicep, two people standing nose to nose almost. Luckily for me he’s of an average height and my nose just grazes his lips (and he has lovely lips). All my life I had wanted tall, dark and handsome, and whenever I had gotten it I had gazed squarely into the middle of a chest (vertically and horizontally). He is short, light and cute, with deep sea blue eyes and an English accent to die for. I gaze at the floor of his deck.

“Can’t we take a break” I ask, none too happy with the petulant tone in my voice.

He sighs and steps further back.

“You said we’d practice tonight.”

A look of disappointment flashes over his face. He goes over to the railing and leans against it. Taking a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket he lights one and takes a long drag. I’m not too crazy about the smoking, but so far it’s his only fault, that is until this dance class started. Now he smokes and wants to practice the tango every waking minute. I look up at the sky and listen to the tree peepers' incessant symphony. Stars shimmer in the black velvet night overhead. The sounds of tango music flow softly from the CD player near the door.

“I’m just a little tired tonight” I answer.

“You’re always tired anymore.” Now it’s his turn to sound like a child not getting his way.

I look at my hands. Well, here it is our first fight. Nothing to be concerned about, right, sooner or later every couple has to have their first fight. I catch myself as I hear that word in my head; couple. Are we now officially a couple? The rules have changed so much since I first started dating sometime in the last century, and after 10 years of marriage, a divorce and then 5 years of single motherhood I’m not all that confident I know what the rules are anymore. I try to ask my younger co-workers for advice, but it’s somewhat unnerving to seek guidance from a person who was born the year I graduated university. There seems to be no hard and fast rules anymore. Is it first date drinks, second date dinner, third date sexual intimacy, or is it first date dinner, drinks, sex, or is it just drinks and sex or do you just walk up to the first attractive guy you meet and say “Open for business”? And don’t get me started on that whole absurd “cougar” or “MILF” moniker. There’s nothing like having your definition as a human reduced to your ability to attract the opposite sex. It isn’t any better than being referred to as either a “nice girl” or a “loose woman”.

I look over towards him in the dim light. He’s strung fairy lights all around the deck, and the first few times we had practiced we pretended we were dancing at a garden party at a chateau somewhere outside of Paris, or at a milanga in Buenos Aires, or on the promenade of Gatsby’s Long Island mansion. I really don’t want to fight, not tonight when it’s so beautiful in the moonlight. I walk over towards him in time to the music; ONE two THREE four, ONE two THREE four, letting my arms glide around my body. I smile as I catch him trying not to look at me, see the way the tension leaves his body to be replaced by desire. I stand next to him at the railing.

“Where are we tonight?” I ask in my most sultry voice.

He steps on his cigarette and crosses his arms across his chest.

“I don’t know. Where are we?”

His voice is tight and wary. SIGH, I think, this isn’t going to be easy. I continue to look over the railing into the dark back yard. How do you explain to someone who’s been nothing but nice to you that it’s hard to let go of the fear that you’re screwing up again? That you don’t believe in happily ever after or Prince Charming sweeping you off your feet, even when you’re treated like a fairy tale princess. No, that’s not right, I think, he treats me like a wonderful human being, someone who’s funny and intelligent and sexy, someone he really respects and likes spending time with. I lean my head against his arm.

"I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be difficult,” I whisper, “Sometimes it’s hard for me to relax and let go of the past."

I hear him give a short bark of a laugh.

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

He keeps his arms across his chest. “I’m not him, you know,” he says quietly.

I feel as if I’ve been slapped. He is so right, he isn’t my ex, he’s a million times better, the answer to a million prayers. I take a deep breath as I try to keep the tears at bay.

“I know you’re not, and I’m really grateful to you for that. I just hate being told what to do. It brings back bad memories. I just feel like I have to be in control all the time. Strong and tough.”

He sighs and shifts his weight, bumping his shoulder against mine.

“You’re not the only one who’s been hurt, you know. This is hard for me too. I’m not trying to control your life; I’m just trying to learn this bloody dance.”

We stand side by side, facing in opposite directions. I don’t know what to do, and I hate not knowing what to do. I start to speak softly, still not looking at him.

“Somebody once told me that it’s wrong to tell people to ‘get over it’ when something painful has happened to them, because you never really forget. You have to think of your psyche as a giant pantry, and all your life experiences are items on the shelves. The painful ones are still there, but if you’re working on getting on with your life you find a place for them on the shelf. Sometimes they spill over and you have to clean up the mess but for the most part they sit on the shelf and you can say, “Oh, yea, I remember when that happened,” and then you close the door to the pantry. Close the door to the pain”. I take another deep breath “I guess I need to rearrange my pantry some more.”

The music stops playing as the CD ends. We stand silently next to each other; it takes me a while to realize that he’s turned his head and is staring at me, a smile on his face, trying desperately not to laugh at me.

“What?” I ask, as my lips begin to mimic his. Have we averted the crisis? He bumps his shoulder into mine again as he starts to walk across the deck to the CD player.

“You’re not so tough,” he says.

I try not to smile.

“Tough enough to handle you”, I answer back. “It’s the tattoos, you know.”

He laughs and changes the CD.

“I like your tattoos,” he says. There’s no missing the hunger in his voice.

Now it’s my turn to laugh. I keep my back to him as I pretend to look over the dark yard. The music begins to play again.

“Where are we tonight?” I ask as I look over my shoulder at him.

“Paris”, he answers, “In a flat overlooking the Seine.”

“What room are you in?” I ask, feeling the tension building between us.

“The living room.” I hear him move across the deck towards me.

“And what room am I in?”

I step back to him as I feel his hand brush across my hip. I feel his breath in my ear as he brushes his lips against the back of my neck.

“The bedroom,” he whispers as he kisses me.

I turn to him and put my hand on his arm as his places his hand on the small of my back. He pulls me close to him; our stomachs press against each other for an instant. I take a deep breath and exhale as I let him move me across the deck.

©2009 VL Sheridan

1 comment:

  1. Another long piece. This was originally published last year in The US1 Summer Fiction Issue.