El Suavecito

E. Eastman

“What would you like to dance?” El Cojo asked. “¿Un fandango? Una buleria?

¿Quale?” Which.

“Whichever you want.”

“I know the Sevillanas.”

“Begin there,” he said and when he pointed, up came the familiar guitar chords.

¿Solo?” I asked, of a dance I had only done partnered.

“But of course.”

“I can’t do it alone.”

“Ah,” he said.

“Ah,” my mother repeated.

Terrified, I wondered if she had been, in representing my skills at the onset of the audition, a bit ambiciosa.

I smelled my fear.

Nervously fingering the thick sheaf of bills against my thigh—the fee and a munificent tip—lodged in my pocket that morning with a quick shove by my father, I wondered how long he had labored for the sum.

I began to shape the apology that I, the impostor, would, for having wasted the maestro’s time, proffer the fee, then counted the steps to the door through which my dreams and my disgrace would flee.

Noviciado,” someone clucked.

Pobrecito,” someone added.

“Well,” I anticipated my father saying when my mother recounted the failed audition, “after all that fuss.”

An eternity passed.

Then, the clamantly imperative rap of knuckles against the table top, insistently rapping the dance’s beat, roused my inept feet which, faltering at first, the insubstantial strikes against the floor ill-defined and muffled, but slowly, incrementally, when I saw his half-looped, bemused smile, substantially more audible and authoritative and precise.

¡Anda chiquillo!” the crowd yelped and with a swift shimmy, I shed my sport coat, unhitched my bow tie, flung both to the floor, shoved unbuttoned shirt cuffs above my elbows, lashed my untucked shirttails mid-torso, then trucked across the floor, con brio, hips swiveling, fingers snapping, arms pulsing with eminently more and more artful and enticing poses.

¡Que toma, que toma!” the crowd screamed.

Unfortunately, my provocatively fiery head tosses unleashed no backcombed locks burnished with Brilliantine because my father’s leniency at the barbershop allowed a paltry cockscomb of waxed unwavering hair.

On my face, the expression endlessly rehearsed in the mirror, equal parts rogue and rapist.

But when I slapped my right buttock with a crack echoing across the room, El Cojo came out of his chair.

¡Alle!” he roared, thumping the table and, if my translation skills were accurate, telling me that the stage was mine.

Like the keys of a typewriter—someone yelled about the dizzying speed with which my heels now struck the floor. When I finished, panting, lips a little frothy and parched, my clothes more than damp, tingling with the thrill of having danced, finally, for the master, the room stilled.

Plunked in the hush, the blossoming doubt that he would deem me worthy of refinement, and as I prepared to recompose myself, gather up my lobbed garments, shake his hand, thank him for his time, hand over the cash and disappear, I ascertained, in a rush of words, inscrutable at first and directed mostly at my mother, the price, steeper than expected, of his tutelage, that I must never be tardy, that I must practice every day, that it would be better if I attended alone and, as soon as la señora could arrange for el niño to obtain suitable zapatos, he said, scribbling the address of his cobbler on a piece of paper retrieved from a pocket, the lessons could commence.

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