The cafe is just off the crowded street. A pool of calm out of the flow of people passing by. The sun hangs above the skyline for a moment and bathes the old stone with the soft light of evening. There is that glow that eases years and hours. The glow where lovers are revealed to one another; at once fourteen and forty-four and, when the shadow deepens, one hundred and four.
But he is running through his play list. The old litany of should and would have, and if only. And in this magic hour I am listening, listening to the same old same old; the job, the stress, how he longs to get away, why they let people smoke and how close the tables are, until I want to jump up and shake him, scream at him, why, why come all this way to come up with the same chorus of complaints and gripes. Why, when there is so much new all around us, do we have to remain mired in the daily crap and why, oh why, can’t he just for once open his eyes and enjoy?
All he sees is my pasted smile and his reflection in my sunglasses. But I am watching the street.
A lady stands at a table across the way, slips off her fur coat without seeming to care where or how it might fall. The man beside her is there to catch it even though I never saw him stand or step towards her. He moves in a shimmer and flow of his dark cape, his face half hidden beneath his broad brimmed hat. A single grey feather angles back from the black band. I wonder if he has stepped out of another time and not just from the other side of their table. She smooths the red silk of her dress and swings one leg like the pendulum of a clock, her silver stiletto marking the passing time. Waiting, but anticipation rather than impatience in the beat she seems to hear. His cane finds the rhythm and he steps beside her and takes her arm. They pause. She so balanced on her toes, barely held to the ground, waiting for his lead.
In that instant, a little girl runs in front of him chasing her ball. He swirls his cape and bows as he catches the ball and hands it to her. His lady barely stirs.
I turn and exclaim, “Did you see…”
“See that?” he interrupts. “They ought to keep that sort away. We are paying good money to sit here for god’s sake. Honestly, no wonder the economy here is in such a shambles.”
Honestly? I think. Honestly Tony, how you can you miss the magic right in front of you? But he isn’t looking at the couple in the crowd, he has his eye on a shabby street musician, violin tucked under his arm, making his way through the tables, looking for business.
“I hope he doesn’t stop here. It’s so embarrassing when they beg like that. Where is our waiter? He ought to be taking care of this.”
“It’s music,” I start to say, but he’s turned away trying to catch the waiter’s eye.
A tall young man raises his hand and the violinist makes his way over, they talk. The musician smiles, nods, plays a few bars. the young man stands, takes off his coat. The sleeves of his white shirt are rolled up and his arms are tanned and strong. He turns and I see he isn’t as young as I thought, only carries himself like a younger man, loose, easy, a casual grace. His hair is longer and combed back and his eyes are clear and bright. I think I must have heard this music once before, somewhere, maybe long ago. And as though through some shifting curtains, long lost memories return to me.
He moves with the music, walking. The people passing by slow to listen and as he passes he scans the faces, as if he is looking, expecting a special someone.
The couple across the cafe face each other. Her hand light on his shoulder, his arm around her, holding her close. Her eyes close as though she is listing inward for the cue to move. And then they move. Oh, it is like stanzas of a poem in motion, like steps of desire marked followed, he leading into her and her always stepping back and away and yet never breaking the bond, the heart to heart connection that is so clear I expect the people about them to stop whatever silly story they are sharing and become lost in a lovers’ gaze, to weep or cry out in passion, to clasp hands, or devour one another, stripping away all that separates us one from another. Clothes and status, morality and anxiety, all stripped away so only the essential man and woman remain and the vast and wild territory of desire between them.
I am so lost in them I do not see the man in the white shirt has stopped in front of me.
I see his hand as in a dream.
“Sarah! Sarah?” Tony’s voice is so far away, so unimportant, so completely irrelevant.
I take his hand and we dance.
Author’s note: to hear the music and join the magic listen to Francisco Canaro’s La Poema.