El Suavecito

E. Eastman

Enrique el Cojo, my father’s connections in the Spanish community assured him, was el mejor, the best.

“It’s just an audition,” my mother warned before drawing back the thick burgundy velvet drape across the door of his studio on Calle Espiritu Santo. “There’s no guarantee he’ll accept you,” she continued. “By the way, I heard he taught the Duchess of Alba to dance.”

Corpulent, his unhandsome features shadowed in dappled, dust-laden light cast by iron-grilled windows, El Cojo sat at the end of the dance floor in a straight-and-high-backed wicker chair facing a battered, bantam table, his legs dangling, the feet inert, cast at a crooked and eerily lifeless angle.

In the session before mine, a well-known dancer had been finishing a passionate buleria, a masculine explosion of heels and arduous footwork propelling him across the floor; and when, with an open palm, he smacked his flank, the slap’s fervor shivering the muscled bellies of his thigh, I prayed to the Baby Jesus, the rest of the Holy Family, and a slate of saints that one day, my turn would come, and thusly would I perform. In a flamenco troop conquering capitals.

Exquisito,” my mother whispered.

The music stopped.

El coreografia exige mas emocion,” El Cojo said with a scant lisp—the choreography demands more emotion and then he unpried his crossed arms to demonstrate.

¡Alle!” the crowd clamored.

Sentarse il culo con passion,” he said. Anchor the haunches with passion.

Mas coqueto,” More flirtatious.

¡Que bonito, hijo, que bonito!” The crowd clapped ecstatically.

He stood, the effort of heaving himself from the chair rippled through his crippled legs, his judicious steps seductively pulsing his hips in place and with his arms arched, wrists cocked, fingers fanning minuscule, measured beats, quivering, fluttering like leaves floating on a tender breath of air, grasping at grace, his partially paralyzed body, released of corporeal restraints by some miraculous, magical rerouting of nerves and tissue, dispensed of its disability, fleshing it with a complex and arresting physical elegance; a beauty born of suffering, brandishing in me a rampant and rapturous shiver of recognition.

“Too bad your father decided not to come,” my mother said.

I had wanted him to; had imagined him boasting when the teacher finished tutoring my innate, yet untrained talent.

With a glance, it was my turn.

*     *     *

“Why do girls get to sit sidesaddle,” I had asked my father, earlier that year, as we rode in the Paseo de Caballos in a hired carriage, my sister ahead on the back of Colonel Adam’s horse, my brother behind, on Colonel Well’s, my mother chatting up the other wives back at the caseta, the question shouted above the din of clacking wheels and clopping hooves, the question sparked when Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of the American President and the Duchess of Alba passed us, both smartly attired in traditional equestrian garb and, seated aside.

One afternoon at the stables, with the help of a groomsman, I had mounted a side-saddled ebony Arabian. Slipping my left thigh over the bi-furcated pommel where it lay suspended, the toe of my right boot nestled in the stirrup, the posture effectively rotated my pelvis, enshrining my baby boys, as my father referenced testicles, protecting them from the horn’s brutal thrusts, a posture hinting of a strong and sexy vulnerability. As sexy as I imagined uncoiling, with a sweep of my calf, the flounced train of a magenta polka-dotted flamenco dress I had mis ojos on at the Gallerias Preciado; or the tug of a turquoise, thick-strapped, chunky-heeled flamenco shoe, on my instep; the playful slap against my neck of pink looped earrings; or, the voluptuary lingering tickle of lace undergarments against bare skin.

My father, seated across from me on his own broad black leather seat, flinched at the question, his spine reassembling itself with a shudder. His brow glistening, he pulled a white handkerchief from his suit coat. Just the week before we had had a lengthy discussion about masculinity when he discovered the extent of, in the top drawer of my bureau, camouflaged beneath a layer of underwear and scented soaps pilfered from my mother’s caboodle, a fan collection.

“Why can’t you collect miniature cars like your brother?” he had asked.

Having recently completed a school report on the Cultural Evolution of the Fan in Other Cultures, I argued that Spanish men not only bussed cheeks in greeting and held hands in public, but carried the utilitarian tools against the heat.

Mucho affectado, buddy,” he injected. “Exsiccate it.”

He had been similarly rigid about allowing me to wear my piecemeal flamenco outfit for the school picture.

“And none of those poses,” he added as I headed out the door to catch the bus, referring to the arabesque stance I had developed a fondness for when being photographed.

As my tutor in the masculine arts my father adhered to a strict, predetermined code of conduct derived from his military training, designed to improve my vacillating virility, lessons he imparted in non-private, extemporaneous lectures or, if the situation demanded silence—in church or while someone was speaking—he resorted to disapproving stares, dramatic, phlegmatic clearings of his throat, or a painfully ceaseless tapping of my nearest body part. Then, imitating the offensive behavior—an angle of the wrist deemed too limp; legs crossed thigh-to-thigh—he slashed a finger across his neck.

That morning in the carriage, the unanswered question of the side-saddle floated, like a toxic cloud, between us.

Wiping his brow, he answered, finally, with a brusque belligerence. “Protects their business.”

“What business?”


“But why can’t men ride that way?”

“Pelvic business.”

“But it seems to me—”

“Seems to me, someone needs to sit in a saddle the same way other men sit in the saddle.”

The ride’s remainder passed in silence ending, at last, when he called for the driver to halt in front of the Caseta Americana. Handing over a sheaf of bills, he disembarked, swinging open the small door with a soft, sedulous sigh of its hinges, the carriage swaying with the descending burden. When he turned, his face reflected an implied, tentative and unnamed part of me, its innocence deemed undesirable, worthy of derision, demanding to be hidden, cloaked in a cautious privacy, a secret feverishly and reluctantly lodged in my psyche, never abandoned, smarting, still, with shame.

Later that afternoon at the bullring, he would again pull that handkerchief from his breast pocket and wave it furiously, along with the crowd, calling for the indultado—the pardoning of the animal’s life when it had not succumbed to the sword’s ineffectual thrusts—and I thought of him and me, father and son, as such, he the matador and I, the wounded-yet-spared bull, gasping with incredulity at the sudden promise of unclaimed days.

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