All the guests had left the table, and indeed the bright room, to dance to a quintet that had struck up, with some vigour, a milonga out in the blue stone courtyard beneath the carved moon. Their chairs were left all at odds, scattered, vacated; pushed away from the table. Only the two of them remained, alone, together above the white cloth with the used plates and balled paper napkins and the little name cards, simply halved. The table was stemmed with glass flutes and magnums and carafes; strewn with bright tangles of streamers, crumpled tissue crowns, twisted crackers; crumbs and crusts and there, there, towering the china bowl foothills of grapes and sweet Spanish oranges, stood a sheer cliff face of fruit cake, an iced mountain centrepiece, upon which a second similar couple sat at a smaller, similar table opposite each other and, had they been able to stand up, to move even, they would have been in danger of stepping, quite shortly, over its edge and plummeting, dashing their miniature plastic heads and handpainted bodies on the fruity rocks below. But they couldn’t move, let alone hear, so it made no real difference.
Balloons – red, yellow, blue, green and orange – buoyed the parquet. They turned slow circles across the room on the breeze from the courtyard.
She crooked the back of her chair, gazed into and through and out the back of the man opposite her. He’d said his name was Warren (or was it Wayne?). He sat at a placemat that bore the name of a man who had sat in that chair earlier and had introduced himself – flashing the small card like it really proved anything at all – as Marcel: repeating the two syllables written there, twice for her – believing, it sounded, that Marcel was the most unusual name she could possibly have ever imagined.
Warren (or Wayne), with his thick, chapped lips and his bold teeth and that black bush ‘tache twitching, as if there were some impossible bird or worse, beetle, within it, was telling her some dull and twisted history of, of what? Argentinian dance? Yes, that was it. And on and on and on he went.
As he spoke he played with the name card, turning it in his hands. She watched the people behind him dancing in the courtyard. A string of tin can lanterns were hanging in the pear trees that grew against the wall. The tiny flames glowed within the cans that had been skewered with many holes, giving the impression of an altogether other starlit night.
She found herself wondering if there could be another universe revolving another sun. Perhaps it was unfolding somewhere out there right now beyond that nail of moon above the dancers? And, as he spoke – very slowly, rather like he was reading aloud someone else’s words from a tricky and never seen before page – he carefully folded and creased the card. She began to imagine, or hope at least, that if there was such a universe out there then it made sense that there was perhaps some parallel world, too. It didn’t seem so strange then to picture herself at another table at another wedding with another man, another Wayne (another Warren?)…
On and on he went, this talking man sat before her and she, intent on the dancers, searched her memory, as one might a crowd for a friend, trying to remember when she had last danced. It had been many years ago.
She imagined the hand of a dancer on her hip. His breath on her neck. Recalled the exhilaration of the syncopated steps. And, within those circles and arabesques, from which she had once believed, with practice, with the right partner, a magic could be summoned that would enable her to propel herself out of this realm and into something beyond.
They were dancing to an ever popular tune. The singer, his voice like kid leather, was wondering the whereabouts of his love. The dancers sashayed and swooned and feigned in the darkening yard and, in their moonshine faces, she found many that she recognised, but only in some loose and vague sense, understood.
He was explaining now how the milonga was really the forerunner to the tango. And so she asked him, quite suddenly, if he would care to dance. His moustache twitched as he hemmed and hawed and then, handing her a tiny card bird that he seemed to have made appear from nowhere, said, “Have you not heard a word I’ve been saying?” She smiled, and cupping the bird, pushed back her chair and stepped toward the music.