I woke up before her, as usual. The cold was intense. The power had gone out sometime during the night, and the old apartment had all but icicles hanging from the ceiling. Shivering, I went to the breakers box and turned the power back on – we had juice from the grid now, and I could see the electric heaters slowly turning red.
It had been a good night. Not doing much. Hanging with a few musicians after the opera at Teatro Colón. Modern opera, “Wozzeck”, by Alban Berg – set in 1920’s Germany, very dark. A hundred years old, and we still call it modern, or contemporary. Just to differentiate from earlier forms of opera, Italian and such, less experimental, I guess.
A cello player with white hair and a nervous tic kept flirting with Lily. I didn’t care much. Drank too many ginebras, probably. She had insisted on having her favorite drink, peach schnapps & vodka. That’s always trouble, when she wants that here – nobody knows what schnapps is around these parts. Vodka is easy enough, but it usually comes with peach juice or something. Last night, an old waiter brought her vodka with peach preserves, the half peaches in syrup that come in a tin. An old waiter who had been there forever, probably. Old guy wearing a toupee, maybe with a grandson who is about to take First Communion or something. Well, he got hell from her. They asked us to leave. I tipped the old boy on my way out. I know what it is to be on Lily’s bad side, and it’s no fun.
Then, on the other hand, when she’s fun, she’s fun.
Like right now that she’s trying to learn Spanish. We’re not so young anymore, but she’s determined. I admire her for that. I’d love to say she’s great at it, but she’s not. Hard as I try not to, I have to laugh sometimes. Bad idea. “You’re rubbish”, she goes, “I’m making an effort and getting zero support from you here. Zero. You just sit there and feel superior”. Well, that’s not true. I do support her. But sometimes she says stuff that’s just too funny.
That’s why I decided to put myself in a position where she can laugh at me, and I joined her in her tango lessons. I’m terrible. I’m the clumsiest contraption that ever stumbled across a dancefloor. She, on the other hand, is pretty good. She learns quick. Her teacher is this very young, handsome lad, and that might be an extra motivation, I don’t know. I always liked tango. My dad used to play Gardel or Cadícamo on the piano, and I would sing. This is ages ago. Same town though. He’s still around, the old crazy. In his 80’s, last time I checked. He likes Lily, a lot.
Anyway, the flat is getting warmer now, and I hear noises from our bed. I put the kettle on. This is our routine. She will have some tea, the nice stuff, Earl Gray or something, and then come with me to the bar downstairs for my cafe con leche and croissants. She can’t do tea in bars or cafes. “You guys have absolutely no idea what tea is”. She wouldn’t say “you guys”, probably. Or maybe she would. She must have picked it from me. I lived Stateside many many years, and picked it up there. We all pick up stuff, I guess. And the other thing is, she says “you guys” like I’m one of them. Well, I am, in a way. But really. I left this town when I was still in my 20’s. I don’t even know what I am anymore, I lived in so many places.
I see her come out of the room. She looks great. She wears her hair short these days. Red as ever. Not a gray one. Is that a redhead thing, not getting gray hairs? Or does she do anything about it at the salon? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. It looks fine. She looks fine in her brown pants and black swater. She doesn’t smile, but gives me a hug. She smells good. A dab of that French perfume, and her own smell. A good combination.
– Tea’s ready, L
– Cheers, R…
– Cómo dormiste?
– That’s how’d you sleep, right… muy bien….
– Good. That fellow wouldn’t leave you alone last night….
– Oh, pufff… he kept saying I should go back to his flat with him, to do coke and listen to old tango records… no shame, terrible…. a shameless old man.
– Am I a shameless old man too?
– You’re pretty cheeky sometimes.
– I love you.
– Shut up.
She curls with her tea in the sofa while I write a note to Margarita. Margarita comes around a couple times a week to help with the cleaning and ironing and stuff. Great lady, tough. Great help. I don’t mind making the bed and doing dishes when she’s not around, but it’s nice to have her. I leave her a shopping list for the store downstairs, and another one for the supermarket, if she feels like walking there. The usual stuff, salami, tomatoes, a loaf of bread, garlic, pasta, wine. Maybe a couple of steaks if she finds the kind I like.
Then Lily’s phone rings, and it’s her son. She walks to one of the balconies to speak with him and have a cigarette, but comes right back in, it’s too cold outside. Kid’s doing fine. 22 now. Studies economics in London, seems pretty bright. Met him only once. My own son is a little older, and a lieutenant somewhere in the desert, with the Marines, making sure the last remaining oil flows to America, doesn’t stay with the camel fuckers. He’s an open wound. So like me. Got into all the same kinds of trouble, and ended up joining the Marines. He’s out there killing ragheads somewhere, until he gets blown to bits and leaves me heartbroken. He could have come here, he could have gone anywhere.
– It’s so fucking cold outside, dude… this is supposed to be South America… I couldn’t even light up my fag.
– Carter doing allright?
– I guess. He needs money. Has a new girlfriend, a Russian. Is thinking of a post graduate course in Paris.
Lily lights up her smoke inside, back on the couch. I don’t mind. This is my old family apartment, somehow we managed to keep it. It’s a big flat in an old building, a 4th story overlooking Parque Lezama, right above the Bar Britanico. Parquet floors, a little run down. Could use a paint job. Nobody uses it except us, when we travel to BA. I quit smoking years ago, but thinking of my son makes me want to start again.
– Let me have a drag of that, girl
– Sure. Thinking of him again?
She knows me. After all this time, she’s getting to know me. That feels…. odd. And nice.
I have a daughter too, but I don’t need to smoke when I think of her. She’s in Georgetown like her mum, will soon be a lawyer. I think she likes other women, which is fine with me.
The cigarette smoke makes me a little dizzy. I walk into the bathroom, rinse my face. Look at the guy staring at me in the mirror. Is that me? Where did all the years go? How much longer do I have left? Is L. going to get tired of me and leave? Will I ever be a decent tango dancer? Questions, questions. I step outside and L is finished with her tea and her smoke. She looks at me and I realize, once again, that she has the most beautiful eyes. I’m happy she’s here with me. I’m happy we’ll have croissants downstairs and then go to our tango class and then maybe lunch at a little Catalonian restaurant we like. I kiss her lightly, pat her in the ass. Such a nice, round, firm ass. Such a beautiful woman. Such a cold day. Finally, she smiles.