A Tall Hookah

An unmistakable blush gathered discreetly around Dolores’s pearl earrings and spread delightfully across her cheeks. She stood before him, one arm resting on his shoulder, her body still warm against his, and swayed gently to the rhythmic echo of the tango they had just danced.
“You’re a busy bee, Max,” she said, observing him through lowered eye-lashes. “Busy, busy, foraging for nectar, flitting here and there, bristles laden with pollen, proboscis probing promiscuously. And now, ever industrious, you’re building a new hive. Do you think a reincarnated Hotel Fakir will make those scented folds and recesses bloom and grow, like edelweiss baptized by the sound of music?”

His first instinct was to deny her accusation, much like Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. But the passage of two thousand years, his grasp of tactical maneuvres on the chessboard, and his fraught experience of female challenge, had taught him that the best defense is always offense.
“Tango unfolds the petals that protect the soul,” he said. “Do you doubt that? You said yourself: Look inside. The music guides you on that journey, and persuades you to bring another, for better or for worse, for ever, or just for now. The essence of tango is that a woman and a man experience, if only momentarily, a melding of body and mind that surpasses the everyday. But you asked about the Hotel Fakir. What more could you ask for?”

“I’d like to meet this Jared Gregorio,” Dolores said, “What does a jailer of terrorists know about transcendence? He enforces elaborate constraints on freedom. The Hotel Fakir was hidden behind magnolias, a secret cobbled forecourt, and an erect cobra over the door. Easily reproduced. But what about Ignatio? What about the sepia photographs at the end of the bar by the tropical flowers? What about the quiet, intense moments of reflection, equal parts desire and despair, that are inseparable from tango?”

Long moments passed as Dolores and Max gazed at each other across their table at Tabouli’s, down by the Charleston waterfront. A waiter placed before them a tall hookah and with a flourish sparked a wooden match that he held against the charcoal. Dolores’s hand rested next to Max’s on the starched linen tablecloth. Their fingers touched and caressed each other, intertwining like the placid curls of apple-scented smoke weaving and lifting from the hookah’s glowing crucible. A soft wind laden with complex moistures from the salt-marsh drifted through the wooden shutters that cast sunlit slats across the floor. The soundtrack came to life with Canaro’s “Milongo Criolla”. They drew closer, and awaited the next step, poised and alert.

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