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El Bar

Third place winner of Bookshop's annual short story contest, 2010. 
El Bar 

Vanessa Hemingway 

Her last night she stood on the balcony of El Bar and she could see across the main street over the Teatro Juarez to the mountains. A star, the first one visible in the darkening sky, was there and then gone.  The other people were dancing between drinks―she could hear them inside. Alberto stood beside her. Con mucho gusto, he said. It was his pleasure to meet her. He was strong and solid in the disappearing light.

The next day, instead of taking the bus to Mexico City and then an airplane to New York, she extended her stay in Guanajuato another week. Her husband was happy to let her. His business was going very well, and it kept him very busy. That night in El Bar she danced only with Alberto, and when they danced he held her by the hips. He could move her from there―her whole body right, left, in any direction his hands wanted her to go. The next night she stopped asking for tequila: She wanted to know what was Alberto and what was not. Agua con limon, por favor, she told the barman. Alberto moved her just as easily, in any direction, and the delicious feeling was still there.

Instead of going to her classes at the language school in the mornings, she drank warm chocolate in an open air café and read a tired copy of Love Story in Spanish from the only bookstore in the town. She used her dictionary for the words she wasn’t sure of, and she thought of dancing with Alberto in El Bar. In the afternoon the Señora made her a drink of blended watermelon, and she watched Mexican soap operas in the dark with the curtains pulled. There were terrible infidelities, jealousies and scandal. Her Spanish was improving―she was able to understand all the words, even the slang.

Alberto never asked her what she did during the day, and she didn’t ask him. In fact they said very little, and in that one way it was like her marriage. In El Bar they danced, and afterward on the street they walked in the warm evening, her hand in his. On the fifth night―she hadn’t let him before―he kissed her, under a streetlamp in the zoccolo. Their figure cast one long shadow that only came undone when a taxi pulled up to the curb. The driver took her fifty pesos and brought her, still trembling, back to the Senora’s.

The next night, her last, she got to El Bar before Alberto. She sat on a stool at the bar with her lemon water and watched the couples dance. The Mexican men moved very well, from the hips, she noticed. But none of them moved the way Alberto did.  None of them used his hands on the women’s hips like he did when he danced with her.  Would she like to dance, a man asked her. No, she was waiting for someone. She turned away from the liquor on his breath. He took her elbow roughly and called her guera, white woman.

At one o’clock in the morning, from a pay phone outside the silver shop on the corner of the zoccolo, she had difficulty using the calling card she’d bought from a street dispenser. Finally she gave up and called collect. Her husband was worried about the charges. What time is it, he asked her. Is everything all right? Someone, he reassured her, would be at the airport to meet her.

She waited for Alberto in El Bar until two in the morning. Then she let a man buy her tequila, but she would not dance with him. At three o’clock he insisted it would be no trouble to drive her to wherever she was staying. He apologized for Alberto. You know Alberto? Yes, we are friends, he told her. She did not believe him and found she was not surprised when he drove her past Teatro Juarez and the marketplace, away from the Señora’s and toward the mountain. Its outline was strong and solid against the dark sky.

He is a clown, the man was telling her. Is that how you say it in English? A circus performer. The man was unbuttoning her blouse. In a few hours her husband would send someone to collect her at the airport because he would be working very late. The shadow of the mountain enveloped the car. I am married, she told the man. Yes, he laughed. Yes. So is the wife of Alberto.

Several weeks later in New York she bought a ticket to the circus performing at Madison Square Garden, and she went alone.  A child sitting in front of her laughed when a clown set fire to his hair and ran screaming from the platform. There were lions and elephants and a menagerie. In the final act a woman high on a trapeze dropped an impossible distance only to be saved at the last moment by a man on another trapeze. He held first her hands and then her hips, and finally, together, they fell.