by Patricia Hemingway
The Palms, a Supper Club with Bar in the small Mexican village, was crowded for a Tuesday evening. Lucid triangles on narrow stems intermingled freely with tumblers half full of amber liquid. The American woman sipped her icy drink, and watched the band members unpack their instruments in the space next to the bar, a sign that it would rain. The drinking patrons, and the coupled diners seated at the white cloth-covered tables, each in their own way, formed the perimeter of a small, makeshift dance floor.
The woman turned toward the adjacent open-air patio. It was empty except for the palm trees intersecting the sky in near-perfect arches. The woman set down her drink, and listened. The fronds rustled. With the grace of a dancer, they honored with a deep bow the wind of early evening.
She began to envision a curtain of rain forming just outside the eaves, and found it comforting. Drops, filling the empty patio. Just now the rain began its slow patter on the palms.
The woman sat opposite the mirrored wall at the back of the bar. She located her image among profiled faces, and arms bared to the evening air. The palms, their trunks roped in white lights, appeared only slightly distorted in their reversal. She imagined the rain rolling down the mirror, and troughs forming down her face. In a lapse of time the signs of aging deepened, and she felt a cocoon spin round her as surely as her drink left its wet circlet on the bar.
The young Mexican waiter standing near the kitchen was watching her. He appeared to be anticipating the moment when he would replenish her drink. He was, in fact, aware each time she crossed her legs, when she shifted her position, and the way her fingers came together near the hem of her dress, casually covering her knees.
The young man studied the angle of the woman’s head in juxtaposition to her shoulders. In this way, he read her shifts in emotion as one shoulder relaxed and her hand opened on her lap, as the other grasped her drink, as she found her own reflection and quickly bent her head. It was then he saw the frail strip of fabric fall sideways from her otherwise bare shoulder. The young waiter imagined himself beside her, taking the strap between his fingers and encouraging it back to its place, lightly brushing her skin as he did so.
He understood her aloneness as completely as he did his own. He watched as long as he could, then reached down to retrieve a candleholder from the shelf, and carried it to the far end of the bar where she sat. The large white candleholder had been designed by a local glassblower to resemble a magnolia blossom in a slightly surreal, asynchronous shape. When the young waiter sat it on the shiny black bar in front of her and leaned in to light the candle, its whiteness glowed so convincingly that for a moment the hint of magnolia seeped into the smoky air.
She nodded, and said “thank you” without turning to look at him.
You are very beautiful, he longed to say. More beautiful than from across this room. Especially your shoulders.
“Can I bring something for you, Señora?”
She looked at the mirror as he stood just behind her. “In a little while.”
The young waiter felt the stab of dismissal. He left her quietly and went into the bathroom. With the wooden door locked, he unzipped his pants and touched the warm brown skin of his penis. The skin tightened and tears came to his eyes. Why could he not rub against her softness. The young man leaned his back against the wall, and braced one foot against the toilet. He had only to stroke himself lightly. The tip emerged as if from hibernation, so tender he barely dared to touch it. His back arched and his breath stopped in his throat. His mouth softened into a silent cry.
The band started to play and a crowd was drawn to the sheltered dance floor. They spun and swayed, and there was a shared laughter as their movements took them to the perimeter where the rain came down just beyond the eaves. Motion obscured them to one another. Hips grazed nearby bellies, softness to a partner’s muscled thigh. Rhythm caressed their faces and their breath took on moisture. They might have been bathing in a pond of pure sound.
The woman listened for the rain and it became foreground to the music. She was immune to the dancers veering inward toward the bar. Her cocoon, thin as tissue paper, made her impermeable to the outer world. The soft underside of the cocoon sealed off the world inside, where she once existed. Where she had been a fishnet, dropped wide onto the ocean. One integral woven strand, permeable, infinitely flexible. Where waves rushed back and forth through her pores. Through her emotions they flowed, bubbling to her surface in laughter and comprehension.
She longed for this world she could no longer access. She slid off the barstool and made her way through the bright, white tables, and walked onto the open patio. The rain was falling in a singsong of drops. Her arms reached outward and her palms turned upward in invitation. She spun around in one direction, then another. She never stopped moving.
The rainwater swirled about her and she became wet. So wet that she drifted slowly downward to an undersea world. When finally she reached the sandy bottom, it felt familiar to her feet. Kelp trees, in a forest surrounding her, extended to the surface and to the waves, now high above. She reached out to grasp the slippery golden vines, stabilized in the sand. They comforted her. She wrapped them in her hair and round and round her neck. They clung tightly, rooting her to the ocean floor.
The young waiter stood in the shadow at the edge of the patio. He held two small towels, still folded. He did not move, nor did he blink, as he watched the woman dance, as he watched the raindrops falling on her shoulders.
Patricia Hemingway lives in Ajijic, Jalisco, on the shore of Lake Chapala. She is a member of the Ajijic Writers Group. Her first book of stories, The One Who Got Away, is due for publication in the fall.
photo by Angela M Campbell