INCIDENT IN PATAGONIA
Fragment of Chapter XVII
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
June 1984 - Fourteen months later
(...) They drove in silence and parked in the large, graveled open space next to the building used as a parking lot. Twenty or so cars were already lined in. Small groups of people walked toward the large and old two-story house that was the club’s proud acquisition. Sitting on a recently manicured lawn by the river, the building had belonged to a prominent Florida family. A decade ago, the club bought it as a fixer-upper for a reasonable price and now restored to its old splendor.
They followed the others to the entrance, as Alicia tried to tiptoe on the graveled ground to protect her stiletto heels. He showed the tickets at the door, and they entered the ballroom, looking for their place not far from the entrance.
Franz and Helena were already at their table, chatting animatedly with the Fechner and another couple that they hadn’t met before. They seemed friendly enough, and the conversation took a turn from the food they had on the menu to gossip about the other club members.
Alicia got bored with their continuous chatter and looked around, paying attention instead to the decorations that hung from the ceiling and the small orchestra, placed in a corner, alternate playing European style tangos and traditional melodic Argentinean folk tunes.
The hall was composed of two long rooms, evidently the former living and dining areas of the mansion now linked by an archway with columns. Three rows of tables had been placed near the walls, leaving the arch free and a sizable dance floor in each room. The tables were mostly full by now as the salad was being served.
From early in the day, Alicia had methodically built the courage to face the evening, and now she felt comfortable enough almost to enjoy being there.
The dinner was nearly over, and she made an effort to pull herself out of her thoughts, turning her attention to what Sergio was saying to the others. “... So I don’t think he will give in to anybody. He promised to clear the air, that’s why he won the election. He cannot afford to pardon the torturers just like that...”
“Alfonsín is not as strong as you may think,” Fechner cut him short. “He’s going to be kicked out of office anytime now if my sources are right. He turned out to be a lousy president if you ask me.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. The Fechner common defense of the military juntas’ dirty war methods was a sticky point for Franz when Sergio was present. He always tried to steer the conversation in a different direction whenever possible. Alicia, needing to act upon her disgust for the guy took Sergio’s hand and standing up she said: “This is lovely, let’s dance.” He looked at her surprised and at first, he resisted a bit but noticing the pleading in her eyes, he stood up swiftly.
“Yes, let’s dance,” he said and, turning toward the table, he muttered an excuse. He followed Alicia to the open area in the room where two or three couples were swirling to the tune of a valsecito criollo, a folk version of a waltz.
“No spinning, please. I’ll get sick,” she panicked at his first fast turn.
He laughed. “You mean you are not already sick from the conversation?”
She smiled, and he slowed the pace. They danced for a few minutes in silence. He was a good dancer, and she enjoyed that. He had a good sense of rhythm and his slim and muscular body guided her easily. While dancing he always made subtle changes, created new steps, invented swirls, all without missing the beat of the music. She had forgotten how much she enjoyed their bodies locked like this, just following the music in unison, while his strong hand held her by the waist.
“I’m glad we came tonight. Maybe we need to go out more often,” she ventured.
He looked at her, surprised. “Wow, I’m glad you said that. You read my mind.”
“We should do something about it,” she said when the music stopped, and the melody of tango filled the air. “Maybe take those tango lessons we once said we would take.”
“I’m in. Just go and book the dancing classes.” They danced in silence for a while, paying close attention to their unpracticed tango steps and occasionally glancing at the other tables. He waved hello to a noisy group.
“Coworkers,” he explained.
Alicia focused on Sergio’s shoulder, right at her eye level. She always had loved the soft curve of his neck, the elegant lobe of his ear. Why was she feeling so attracted to these intimate details again? She hadn’t experienced this for a long time; courageous enough to look at Sergio closely again, even enjoy his company. It felt so good to dance with him this tango tune.
“We should learn some more cortes y quebradas,” Alicia said. “Fancy steps like the dancers in Buenos Aires do. Not those outlandish rigid twists that some professionals do in shows. Tango should be subtle and elegant, not crude sexual moves or marionette-like dancing.”
“Yes, but still this is deeply sensual music, you know that.”
“I know, but I resent it when they make a mockery of it all over the world when this music is so much more than that.”
“It’s just a business, there are people buying that, and they sell it,” he said.
The music ended, and they stood for a few seconds scouting the crowd that was joining the dance floor after dinner had finished. At the sound of another tango, they started dancing again.
And then, she saw the man.
First, it was just a glimpse of a head. Her eyes were distractedly looking at the people sitting at the tables when she saw the familiar head. It was the same haircut and shape she had seen, a long time ago and under the light of passing cars, turn around and walk toward the darkness of a green Ford Falcon crossed in front of her car. Alicia shivered under the silky burgundy evening dress, and Sergio felt it.
“What is it? Are you cold?”
“No, no,” she said looking around, trying desperately to find the man again, locate where she saw him. Maybe her eyes were playing a trick on her? Punishing her for daring to enjoy a moment without bad memories or guilt?
It would not be the first time that she had thought she saw this man in a crowd, as in the day they landed at Miami International Airport when Alicia would have sworn she saw him going up an escalator while they waited at the carousel for their luggage. Now her stomach tightened with a bout of nausea. Was this, again, a creation of her mind to terrorize her and then vanish? Another panicked flash? (...)