She headed into the dark heart of the city, where few gringos ventured, letting herself be carried by the flow of the crowd through the narrow calle, until she heard an enticing melody float out of an open door, above which a lighted sign advertised “Café Paradiso”, with a suggestive drawing of a dancing couple.
She strolled in and immediately had the feeling that she had left reality behind. A nattily dressed gentleman beckoned her in with a lascivious smile and offered a table, but she breezed right by him and walked along the periphery of the room. Callie always got the scent of a place right off the bat, and breathed in a heady melange of perfume, cigarettes, and whiskey. The place was a strange mix of the seedy and the elegant, the beautiful and the desperate.
The dance floor was half filled with couples of all ages, some casually dressed, some in tuxes and gowns. A small orchestra played a seductive song that urged Callie to dance.
She took a stool at the long bar and ordered a glass of wine. Single Mexican women were sprinkled about the club, but she was the lone gringa, and was getting looks from both sexes. She felt powerful, full of energy, well aware that she looked desirable.
A weird voice behind her cackled something lewd-sounding in Spanish. She looked around and saw a blue and yellow parrot in a brass cage behind the bar cocking his head at her. He began repeating the word, “ferrocarril” over and over, rolling his “r’s” for all he was worth.
She felt good there. The wine tasted just right and induced a pleasant euphoria. She had turned twenty-five a few weeks ago, a quarter of a century. She was ready for anything.
The Mexicans danced with abandon. Men moved past her, trying to catch her eyes. A somber, dark-skinned woman with a cynical smile eyed her from the end of the bar. The vocalist sang love songs with a fervent yearning.
A striking young man, perhaps Callie's own age, stared intently at her from across the floor. She felt the warmth of his gaze before she caught sight of him. He was swaying his body to the music in a manner which Callie had never seen, rather like someone in restrained ecstasy. She put her glass down and returned his stare. He wore a white tailored suit, had neatly cut, slicked-back hair and an assured expression on his face that said he had already made up his mind.
One song ended and another began, a tango. He moved directly toward her through the dancers, half dancing, half gliding. Callie was thrilled. Her mouth went dry and her heart fluttered when he came up to her with a sweet and slightly arrogant smile, and held out his hand.
She took it, rising up to accompany him to the center of the floor, where he slid his arm around her waist and took her right hand high in the air and launched into the forward motion of something like a tango. He moved like a cat, in sinuous curves and dips, keeping a certain space between them, until he would bring her right against him to make a tight rapid turn that would take her breath away. Callie was only feeling, not thinking, for it was wonderfully easy to follow his strong lead. When he held her close the smell of his hair was sweet and masculine, and there was a smoky scent to his clothes.
They said not a word, but moved in a trance, as if he had been waiting to find a partner equal to him.
There were moments when he locked his eyes with hers, for the dance was as emotional as it was physical, and more intimate than she thought possible with a stranger. Someone shattered a glass, a knife blade flashed, some woman screamed, and a man was dragged away,but they kept dancing, until the song faded with a soft guitar arpeggio.
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