Heels, flashing at silver speed, step to the beat of a brassy swing band. It seems effortless. A shoulder shrug here, a dip of the hips as she circles in a tight twirl, sliding under her partner’s arm. She vamps, he poses. Their faces are flushed with exertion. The music, a seductive lover, gets what it wants. He smiles and smirks and waves his glad hand in a shimmy. She moves away and rounds back, moves away and rounds back. They say nothing. There’s no need. Everything is there in the rhythm, in the moves, in the love of dance.
He lifted his drink, tipping it to get the last drops. “Another?”
He signaled, one sagging digit held in the air. He walked to the bar in a reflective mood.
When he returned he said, “It was my fault.”
She was hopelessly intrigued. “Why say that?.”
“Doesn’t it change things? An apology.”
With an eyebrow arced, she passed a cherry to him. She bit into an orange slice, sending juice down her chin and catching the drips on her finger.
“I never know what you mean,” he said.
She snorted. “Why now, why apologize?”
She smiled at the waitress. “A whiskey sour, please.” A youngish woman took the order, her short skirt stretched over lean legs.
He looked up. “Bourbon, neat.”
He surveyed her ass as she motored towards the back, where the Happy Hour crowd filled wooden barstools. Picking up empties, she glided past banks of booths arranged in tight lines on either side of adobe tiled floors. When she reached the midway point between the entrance and the end, he remembered who he’d come with.
Touching his ex-wife’s scented wrist with the palm of his hand, he asked how she’d been.
He stood close to the mortuary exit. He thought she might change her mind. Mourning doves called, cooing in short and long bursts of flutelike music, cooling the dry warmth of the afternoon. She arrived carrying a vase, then dumped water into a hedge and tossed the flowers into a trash bin. The bouquet was large, composed of scentless yellow roses, blue irises, and red tulips. They were filled with sorrow dripping from broken stems, the way that funeral arrangements are. He imagined his longing for her upended like the discarded green spikes.
After his third divorce, they were both alone.
When his father died she sent a note.
He came to view hers.
The natty corpse sported a Panama suit and a paisley ascot that covered his wrinkled neck. Standing tall, she averted her eyes from the dead man’s face, avoiding his unrepentant grimace. Smiling tragically, she suffered condolences from her father’s ex-wives. She referred to a list of names written on a paper concealed in her sleeve. Glancing towards her ex, she saw his jaw loosening with regret. He asked forgiveness. She asked him to meet her later. For a drink.
He rode the elevator to the basement parking garage, bracing himself between a metal handhold and a luggage rack filled with their daughter’s wedding gifts. His ex’s musky perfume reached into his past, infusing the stories they traded on the way to her car. She was the only one he loved. Laughing, she told him that the lights on the Bay Bridge kept her company at night. She’d never moved.
He wanted to see the metal span from the window in the bedroom of their old flat. Maybe the view had changed?
She said it was too late for that.
He traveled on business, sending special occasion checks and tuition in Ritz Carlton envelopes. She became custodial parent. He whirled his daughter across a ballroom floor on her wedding night. Sparse wisps of brown, the color of the bride’s thick locks, clung to his head.
The mother, her fading red hair pulled into a matronly knot, held a damp tissue. She danced with the groom beneath twinkling chandeliers while the band played smooth jazz. Stray guests conversed at the buffet. She circulated among them, passing by white clad tables and recessed pillars. He swept past. She turned away, uninterested, unimpressed.
Ten years on, perfumed stationary fell as his wife packed his suitcase. In breathless script his new fling wrote, “See you in Chicago.”
Furious, she left the note, as witness, on rumpled cotton sheets that smelled of morning sex, the quick kind that happens between waking, stripping bare, and showering. She placed his empty bag on the pillow. Stepping over soiled clothing piled on the floor where he dropped it, she slammed the door.
She left for the park, where she pushed their daughter’s swing like a mantra. On the way home from the daycare drop, she shopped for groceries she didn’t need and stayed clear until he collected his baggage.
Her apartment, a one room walk-up covered in flowered wallpaper, occupied a Victorian attic in the Haight section of San Francisco. Propped against a Laura Ashley covered double bed, they ate cherries and drank white wine. He breathed her almond scent, nosing the curve of her neck. Stretching, she touched his face, rough with evening stubble, soft with desire. They cuddled, warm at first and then wet. Wrapped in Peruvian blankets, they talked about childhood, and raising children, and work, and the sensual feeling of skin on skin. When they married, it was as if they had never been apart.
That first day, and most days after, they met to ride the MUNI home after work. Without planning or calling beforehand, they stepped to the curb at quarter past five in a kind of rhythm they found hard to explain. Theirs was a love that rose like yeasted dough. Water and flour and biga that became silky smooth with kneading. His fingers, feather light as a sigh, brushed her hair aside, the copper strands falling in waves against his wrist.
She smiled, leaning closer.
He followed her between dented seats, along the sidewalk and up a dingy flight of stairs.