Jupiter and Saturn’s great conjunction having come and gone, Brexit sounder than ever, Washington shaking off smothering Laocoonian coils, vaccines saying “Hello”, and Christmas front and center, I found myself thinking yet again about Tango. I shot off a text to Maria, she of the roof-top milongas of summers past. She replied she’d sold her house, along with the fabled candle-lit dance floor that offered long distance views across Low Country sea-marshes and Tango tandas that steered us into soulful connection. Searches of local Tango websites turned up moribund viral surrender. I decided to check out the Hotel Fakir’s Tango salon, down by the waterfront, where Covid precautions were always studiously observed, and where, even if people didn’t show up, I could count on Ignatio keeping me on the straight and narrow where Tango was concerned.
Avoiding the cerebral demons populating the cobbled patio of the Hotel Fakir, and having carefully closed the black-laquered door behind me, I was astonished to see Dolores sitting at the bar, nursing a double Scotch and chatting desultorily with Ignatio. The last time I’d seen her, she was leaving town, destined for an adjunct teaching slot at the University of California and getting married, an event vividly memorialized on Facebook. I slid onto a barstool next to her, asked Ignatio for my favorite Malbec, and murmured, “Good to see you, Dolores.” The face she turned to me was as beautiful as ever. A certain sadness in her eyes roused long dormant pain in mine. Ignatio retreated to the far end of the bar and fussed with his DJ laptop. I took her hand and long moments passed as we sat quietly, glancing at each other now and again. Behind us, the deserted Tango salon came to life with “El Vals Sonador”.
“I can’t,” said Dolores, as I placed my palm on the small cool of her back, where the silk of her dress slid easily beneath my fingers. “Max,” she said, “Too much has happened. We can’t go back.” But she, like me, both of us orphaned by lost love and a viral pandemic, could not resist Tango’s insidious invitation to fold ourselves into each others’ arms. And so Dolores and I, uniquely estranged and damaged by commonplace missteps in the dance of life, found for a few moments at least a measure of peace. We danced in close embrace, reflected in the mirrored wall of the salon, past the desolate bistro tables and the framed Cunard Line posters, and we listened carefully for faint echoes of the Tango orchestra on RMS Aquitania’s ballroom deck as she set out for New York on a bygone Christmas Day. Not too much to ask for, and just enough for a tiny flame of love to flicker fitfully between us.