Aftermath

“Of course I wasn’t quite the same after that. Nor was my car. A headlight was dislodged by the impact but still worked, dangling freely from a wire or two. Months later, as an orange-vested volunteer on a roadway clean-up crew, I found among discarded beer-cans and rotted fast-food trash a deer skull half-buried in the muddy ditch. I probed some more with my pick-up stick, and uncovered a shattered ribcage and two or three long bones. I paused and gazed into the sun-stippled woods. A red-tailed hawk cried out over the marsh. Occasional cars and trucks sped past. None of them was playing Piazzolla’s “Regreso Al Amor”, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. Since that moonlit night, Tango had reasserted its grip on me. But now I was wary, having watched and listened to tangled tango tales that didn’t always end well. I was slowly learning to distill the message of Tango from its eager, enticing and indispensable messengers.”

“A line of helmeted ropey-calved thirty-somethings in skin-tight spandex zipped by on weightless bikes.
“Good job, sir, thank you,” one of them called out in passing, and was gone. A little later, a skinny man wearing a doo-rag pedaled past slowly on a rickety bicycle.
“Yo, boss, what you doin’ time for?” he asked.
“Well, I bounced a check or two.” I mopped my brow. “The ol’ lady got a restraining order, I messed up probation, an’ here I am, know what I’m saying?”
“I hear you, boss; take care now,” he chuckled and pedaled off, perhaps unsettled by the thought it could be him in the ditch and not me.”

“I fired up my iPod and listened to Di Sarli’s “El Pollito” as I tramped along the grassy verge. I mused over the delirious music, and the tantalizing promise of the eager messengers. Dolores, a forthright young woman who danced with intuitively calibrated abandon as if we’d been together for years. Julia, reserved and critical, whose momentary lapses of self-control revealed beautiful synchronies in our intertwined steps. And Lexi, acutely responsive to the least flamboyant lead, as long as it arose from an intentional and protective embrace. At best, transcendence of sorts; at worst, messy complications and an existential reboot with an unknowable future.”

“A metallic glint caught my eye. Here was a hefty Bowie knife, its seven-inch blade a little rusty but still sharp. And there, nearby, for balance, lay a mildewed leather wallet with a sodden Ruby Tuesday $10 off coupon, a Dollar Tree receipt for pork rinds and chewing tobacco, and a blurred Polaroid of a teenage girl. No driver’s license. I poked around for telltale signs of a rotted corpse, but of course there was none. The distant shriek of the red-tailed hawk signaled just another day on Johns Island.”

Max fell silent, and Troilo’s “Milonga Triste” drifted from the little Sony. In the background hiss, Ignatio heard Dolores whisper in Max’s ear.
“Why so sad, Max? Thinking only of yourself again? Come dance with me.”

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