I felt the scrape of my own whisper against the brick walls of the alley. 
Be brave. 
A group of people pass as I bite my lip and turn back toward the wall, the air around them soaked in rum vapor and the penetrating haze of heat that hovers over Havana. 
Live an unusual life.

Four minutes later the rain-worn turquoise door swings open under my hand and I descend into the velvet darkness, stair by stair. I square my shoulders and hand my money to the woman in the window then step into the dusky club, the weight of the music heavy against my chest. Suddenly the black cigarette pants I’d paired with heels and an open tie felt still and stoic in a sea of swirling skirts, but not one eye lingered.

Eyelashes brush my cheeks like breath as I inhale a thousand shifting layers of scent. Sun-dried tobacco, tips lit like stars in the darkness, the rising heat of bodies, the sharp glint of alcohol slicing the air. My muscles slowly unfold onto my bones; my secret doesn’t matter here. I knew it wouldn’t.

Just off the dance floor, a scuffed Formica table held pitchers of Sangria and a tilted tower of translucent plastic cups. The pitcher was heavy with fruit and I poured too much, the raspberry-tint slicking the outside of my glass and over my fingers as he lifted it out of my hand. He was slight, dark, with a quiet power that seemed to melt into the music then flow around us like seawater. I tapped my ear; he nodded and tangled his fingers into mine, shouldering us through the bodies to the bar, laughing, a satiny tumble of words spilling from his mouth. They were directed at everyone but me as if he knew, but of course, he didn’t.

Two shots of rum slid wild down the bar as we stepped up. A clink, then liquid fire, glasses landing side by side back onto the bar. His eyes were soft, a dense velvet brown, like wet earth. 

He nodded toward the dance floor then took my hand and led me into the center of it, so close to the band I smelled the acrid scent of valve oil and brass in the air. The couples around us melted into the curves and angles of each other and I closed my eyes, memorizing the movement of the music under the floor. I didn’t open them again until I felt the tip of his finger under my chin as he raised my eyes to his. He held them for a long moment as his feet started to move, one raised hand soft against mine, the other warm against my shoulder, wordlessly holding our frame as I mirrored his footsteps.

There was nothing, not even air, between his body and mine yet he held the structure of the dance between us. He led us into the Bachata, smoothing my body around his, spinning me under his raised hand until he stopped me with his palm, our feet still in step below. I softened into the rhythm of his body, the molten movement of his hips against mine, as familiar as breath.

The crowd opened around us and I felt him sink deeper into the steps, taking me with him. His eyes didn’t leave mine as he wrapped one leg around him and bent me back slowly, my hair brushing the ground behind me. His other was warm and steady in the center of my chest, sliding down my body to my hips as he brought me back up to his gaze. There was only a breath between our lips as we stepped back into the music or the heartbeat between us, the boundaries of both hazy and shimmering at the edges.

Later, when the moon had set and the seagulls started to carry dawn on the tops of their wings, we stepped onto the wet sidewalk outside the club. He raised his arm for a speeding cab and turned to me as it slowed to a stop beside us. 

“That was beautiful. You were beautiful.” He smiled, a slant of sunlight illuminating the gold sand edges of his eyes. “Thank you.”
They were his words, but he spoke them with his hands, the silence still dense around us, stirred only by birds that swooped over our heads to settle on the rooftops beyond.
I answered in sign, the first time since I’d started traveling two months before. 
“How did you know?”
He lifted my hand and kissed it, then let it go to answer with his. 
“My sister. She’s hearing impaired. When someone broke a glass behind you and you didn’t turn around…” He smiled. “I knew.”
He opened the door of the cab and sat me gently in it, and I lowered the window as he shut the door.
I felt tears the color of doves gathering in my eyes as I looked up at him, the light of dawn hovering on his shoulders. “Thank you for tonight.”
He kissed my hand again as the cab pulled away, and I watched him turn on the dark sidewalk and start to walk back toward the sea. He turned just once to meet my eyes, then the road replaced reality and I closed my eyes, leaning my head back against the cold leather seat. 

2 Replies to “Havana”

  1. This is absolutely exquisite. Beautiful writing. I’m definitely going to be reading more of your work. Thank you for sharing your passion.