Rooftop Milonga

The sunset milonga on Maria’s rooftop overlooking the Stono River would begin about eight. I left home early and got some sushi at Publix to go with champagne I had grabbed from the fridge on my way out. While there, I stopped by their pharmacy for an overdue pneumonia shot. I waited by the pharmacy counter in a chair next to a small table. A smiling portly pharmacist, armed with alcohol swabs and a syringe, sat companionably on the table. As he asked me to bare my bicep, the table collapsed with complex splintering, spilling him and his accoutrements onto the floor. Somehow, amidst mutual embarrassment and abject apology, I got my shot, signed some paperwork, and was back on the road lickety-split.

Crossing the salt marshes to the mainland, time still on my hands and with queasy twinges needling my bicep, I paused at the trailhead of a nearby county park. The sun was still high but sinking fast. The intertidal landscape of shallow ponds bounded by expanses of shimmering sea-grass reflected a cloudless blue sky. Egrets, seagulls and a great blue heron foraged on crab-pocked mudflats exposed by the ebbing tide. I walked along a causeway, binoculars at the ready. A commotion in the distance caught my eye. A red-tailed hawk was dive-bombing a bald eagle perched on a tree stump, highlighted in constitutional splendor by the setting sun. The eagle repeatedly lifted off its perch, twisted in mid-air, and then settled back. The hawk’s last dive dislodged the eagle and forced its retreat into the sea-marsh, where I lost sight of it.

In Carl Jung’s synchronicity, concurrent unrelated events create meaning that enriches the unconscious. But I wasn’t thinking along these lines when I arrived at the milonga for my sunset tango with Maria. Champagne in hand and snacking on sushi and pizza, we toasted the transient magnificence of a sky criss-crossed with orange jet contrails, a sky transformed from uniform blue to a cloud-flecked palette of lavender and deep red. We took selfies against the backdrop of the setting sun, then waltzed across her rooftop to the ecstatic strains of Pugliese’s “Desde el Alma.”

I was unprepared for what happened next. A concussive crash, a shattering of wine glasses, and alarmed cries disrupted my seductive immersion in Tango. One of our number, portly and unsmiling, renowned for his commitment to milonga etiquette, was sprawled on the floor by the drinks table. He was gasping, like a fat spot-tail bass threshing helplessly in the scuppers of a jon boat trolling the salt marsh. We helped him up, of course, while he gesticulated at the splintered remnants of the chair that had let him down. His mortification was extreme, and I quietly overlooked his piqued Facebook comments next day about etiquette infractions he’d experienced at Maria’s rooftop milonga.

As a metaphor of things gone wrong, any kind of collapse fits the bill. I wondered why these particular metaphors had been visited upon me. After all, at each of them, I had simply been an unwitting witness of scripts I hadn’t written. I decided that Carl Jung merited further study. Meanwhile, I contemplated the rooftop milonga, which was illuminated by candles ranged along the parapet, and suffused with melodic invitations to closer connection. I refined my discreet nuanced cabeceos. My unconscious, by definition a closed book, forged ahead, reveling in the joyful buzz of Tango when invited eyes said yes, open to whatever came next.

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