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We had three regular tapas bars. There was the place where we had the gig, there was the place we had gone on the first night when I had arrived in Seville, and there was a place that the older flamenco crowd liked, one of the ones where regular jam/dance sessions broke out. Oddly enough, that was the place that had a radio behind the bar that they turned on to a station that played pop music in English from time to time.
By mid-July it was really too hot to busk outside in the afternoons. Not that we would have minded the heat ourselves, but no one would linger to listen or watch. So we left off going to the park entirely and concentrated on our evening gigs, two shows a week at Gloria’s school and, by then, two nights a week at the bar. It was one of those hot July afternoons when we were in the bar early for some reason. I was sitting with Orlando while he was talking to the bartender, a twenty-something woman with skinny arms but prodigious breasts. I wasn’t really listening to what they were saying since I could barely make out any of it anyway.
A song came on the radio. My ears perked up, something new, something that sounded kind of good…? Then Sarah Rogue’s voice came in and I realized it was the song I’d written with her. Which made me snort with laughter. Orlando wanted to know what was so funny. I did my best impression of his “I can’t explain.”
August is as hot as July. The say tempers flare when the weather is hot. I don’t know if that’s true. I do know that Adan showed up at the bar one night and went ballistic when Orlando got up to dance. Fortunately the bar had a fairly large, fairly undeniable bouncer named Hector who threw Adan out on his ear.
I spent the entire walk home that night looking over my shoulder, though, convinced that a gypsy gang was going to jump us.
They didn’t. When we got home I tried to ask Orlando about it but it was useless. And then he distracted me, anyway, using his mouth for something other than talking.
So I asked Gloria the next day, telling her about the incident. We were sitting in the classroom after the guitar class and Ramon was lurking around somewhere. “What’s the story between Orlando and Adan?”
She made a disgusted noise and waved her hand in that Spanish “I’m not going to talk about it” way.
“Adan showed up at our gig last night and he and Orlando almost came to blows.”
She looked at me sharply. “Orlando fought?”
“Well, Hector grabbed Adan before it got to that, but it looked like he would’ve given as good as he got.”
She didn’t quite follow that expression. I could see from her face.
“I mean, if Adan was going to go at him, Orlando was going to hit right back.”
She leaned tiredly with her elbows on her knees. “Those boys. Adan is trouble. Orlando…” She shook her head and changed the subject. “I want to hire you to teach the beginner guitar class and to play for the dance classes.”
“Gloria, I’ve only been playing flamenco a couple of months.” Okay, maybe it was six months, but still. “I can’t teach the beginner class.”
“Yes you can,” she insisted. “Most of them can’t play at all.”
“And I don’t speak enough Spanish!”
“No common language hasn’t stopped your teachers from teaching you,” she pointed out.
“I really shouldn’t,” I said, as the other shoe dropped: “I don’t know how long I’m going to be here.”
At that she gave a little self-satisfied nod, like “aha, I thought so.” She stood. “It’s true. You’d need to get a work visa. I need to run a clean business here.”
By clean she meant legal, I think.
“What about Orlando? He could teach and play.”
“He’s too lazy.”
“Not if you’re going to pay him.”
She gave me a skeptical look.
“He’s not the most motivated person in the world, but the one thing that gets him out of bed in the morning is money. Why not, Gloria?”
She gave me a stone-faced look.
“Come on, Gloria. Why wasn’t he already working for you when I started here? What’s going on with you and him and the family?”
But she closed the subject. “Family is family.” To make sure I knew it for sure, she added, “I don’t need you this afternoon. Go.”
So for snooping around Orlando’s situation, and maybe for admitting that I wasn’t there for the long term, I got thrown out. At least for that day. I was pretty sure if I showed up in the morning, she’d pretend the conversation had never happened.
I went home and tried to talk to Orlando about it, but that was the usual complete exercise in frustration. Even if he was willing to talk, there were too many gaps in what we could say to each other.
I finally said, “You know I’m going to go back. To the States.”
“When?” is all he asked.
“I don’t know. Sometime. Not yet.” I wasn’t really prepared to think hard about it. Sometime, but not yet was about as much as I knew.
I showed up at the school in the morning and, as predicted, Gloria tolerated me and pretended the day before had never happened.
Two nights later we were at our usual bar and Josue, the bartender/manager, came over to tell Orlando he had a message. Spanish is full of words that are similar to English words, which makes them easy for me to remember. “Mensaje,” isn’t pronounced anything like the word “message” but two years of textbook Spanish back in the day was enough for me to grasp stuff like that.
Orlando asked who the message was from.
“Carmina,” the bartender said.
Without batting an eye Orlando then asked, oh, when is she coming back?
Josue shrugged and handed Orlando a piece of paper with a phone number on it. Orlando frowned and asked another question. The only word I made out was “why.”
Josue had no answer, apparently, other than a shrug. So I asked Orlando, “Why did Carmina call here? Why is the message here, instead of at home?”
To which Orlando just shrugged like he hadn’t made out a word I said.
I had a sudden ice-water-down-the-back feeling. What if our phone didn’t work? How would I even know? It’s not like it ever rang. There was an answering machine hooked up to it. Now that I thought about it, it was never blinking anymore. I had assumed that was because with Carmina and Vicente gone for the summer maybe there were fewer phone calls. Carmina was the one who had used it the most.
“Orlando,” I said miming the phone. “Is it broken? It works?”
He shook his head. I tamped down a sudden surge of panic. It was August. I’d been there since January.
Calm down, I told myself. I was sure the phone had worked when Carmina was here. So it had only been two months I’d been incommunicado.
“Why?” I insisted.
He tried to give me an explanation. I made out the words for summer and Vicente’s name. I took that to mean Vicente had the phone turned off when he left for the summer.
I was seized with the sudden urge to call home. I had been depending on that phone. If Carynne needed me for anything, she would have called. What would she do if it didn’t work?
I went to the bar and asked Josue if there were any messages for me. Josue had a little English, enough to joke around with me sometimes. “Why, you got hot girlfriend, too?”
“Yeah,” I said, far too seriously. “She’d be calling from America.”
He shrugged. “Francesa answer the phone, not me.”
I had a sudden suspicion. I went back to Orlando. “Let me see the message. The mensaje. Let me see.”
Orlando dug the piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. I put my forehead in my hand. The number was Carynne’s. “Oh, shit.”
He asked me what was wrong.
“This isn’t from Carmina. It’s from ‘Ca-ri-neh'” I told him. “It’s not for you. It’s for ME.”
His eyes widened. “Oh, shit,” he said, in a passable imitation of me. “You girlfriend?”
I almost said no, she’s not my girlfriend. But given that I couldn’t explain who she was, or who I was, for that matter, it was easier to simply nod.
We hurried home and I picked up the phone and sure enough, the line was dead. I stared at it for a few moments, trying to remember where I’d seen a pay phone.
“I call Carmina,” Orlando announced.
“Come.” He led me out again. There was a pay phone a few blocks from the apartment, on the side of a building by the post office.
Orlando used it first. I probably should have walked down the block to give him some privacy. Somehow that didn’t occur to me. I leaned on the wall next to the phone and waited my turn.
He sounded casual as he spoke to Carmina, then happy as he confirmed when she’d been returning. Next week. That much I got.
Then it was my turn. I called Carynne’s number, collect. It was three in the morning in Seville, so it was something like ten p.m. in Boston. A reasonable hour to call.
I got her machine.
The message I left went something like this.
“Hi, it’s me. Guess you’re not there. I just got your message at the bar and found out our phone hasn’t been working. I’m still in Seville, just, I guess when one of my roommates left for the summer no one paid the phone bill? I hope everything’s okay and that you were just leaving the message because of not being able to get through on the phone? Anyway, yeah, I know, it’s been a while since I’ve called, actually I know I’ve never called but I hope everything’s okay there? I guess if you need to reach me the two places I can usually be found are the Triana Flamenco School, which I guess is probably Escuela de Flamenco Triana if you have to call directory assistance, or call the tapas bar again, and make sure to ask for Josue, and by the way they can’t say my name here so call me Dion.” Dee-own.
Her machine cut me off at that point. I hoped she had just been calling to check up on me but somehow I felt a little ill with dread.
We went back to the apartment. In the bedroom, I stripped Orlando out of his clothes, and because he was taller I waited until we were lying down to climb on top of him and pull his head back by the hair so I could kiss him as hard as I wanted. So hard I almost wanted to bite him on the mouth.
“What happens when Carmina comes back?” I asked him, but then I kissed him again before he could answer. When I took my mouth away from his I spoke again: “I think I should leave.”
“Maybe,” he said.
“Do you even know what that word means?”
“Maybe,” he answered.
I kissed him even harder, hard enough to inspire him to leave gouges in my back from his right hand.
Understand that I wasn’t angry at him. Not at all. But a certain amount of frustration had been building up because I knew there were things going on that I didn’t understand. And I was a little angry with myself for not checking in at home more often. (And by “more often” I mean “at all.”)
I fucked him in a rhythm of eight, and then in a rhythm of twelve, and he gave a frustrated growl and pushed back against me, four on the floor. There’s a reason they call it rock and roll. We sank into a steady beat then, the drone of the air conditioner thrumming, and my mind wandered.
I realized I had made up my mind to leave before Carmina got back.
When we were done, and I was lying there sandwiched between the cold air blowing on my back from the AC and Orlando’s hot, damp body in my arms, I asked, “Orlando? Are you gay?”
And he said, “Maybe.”
(Today’s flamenco music lesson: I found a Youtube video of Carlos Montoya playing a traditional farruca. This man is a god, basically. Watch and listen. -d)