She said they didn’t have any great skills but that’s why people enrolled in dance lessons, right? So they saw their new ad and here they were.
Sadie was a talker but they both shared a lot, how they liked to do things that required far less sweat–watching movies, enjoying six course meals, mastering the art of checkers. Carlos was a factory worker so when he was off, he was done. Sadie was manager of a tapas café until the owner’s daughter took her job. Now she worked at her aunt’s collection business.
“Collection stinks. How can I harass people who don’t have the money to meet basic needs? It’s indecent.”
Janelle tried to not listen as she showed a student how to stretch, but how could you avoid such a voice? She couldn’t imagine what it was like getting Sadie’s phone calls or living with that decibel. But the way he patted her shoulder, brushed her bangs from her eyes and bent down to kiss her long nose–some might say large–said it all. He was handsome in a beat-up way, Janelle thought. Must be newlyweds.
They wanted to live better, lower stress, they said. Janelle and Baron had an ad in the neighborhood weekly but this month they’d run a special. First three classes for ten bucks each, then after that the regular rate of twenty an hour. Or ten for one-forty, a real savings. Not so many people wanted dance lessons when they had trouble paying bills. It netted them a half-dozen newbie so far.
“I gotta keep myself in shape,” Sadie said, rolling her eyes. “I’m edging toward thirty-seven and you know where that leads.”
Janelle smiled and handed her a schedule.
Carlos watched the group learning the tango. He seemed restless; Janelle assumed Sadie had dragged him there. He didn’t ask questions, shrugged with hands in pockets. But in ten minutes it became apparent the guy had a sense of rhythm. He tapped his foot, bounced a little as he paced, and studied the moves.
“Sign us up for this one. I can tell he likes it.” Sadie beamed at her man and he shot her a hundred-watt smile.
Janelle took her check for three lessons and talked over attire and rules of the dance floor. Just to be clear. Sadie had worn a long brown sweater, tight jeans and heavy boots.
Baron whisked by, then paused. “You like tango?” He was the expert on this dance.
Sadie shrugged. “We like games, checkers or dominoes, t.v. shows after work. I don’t watch football like him but I used to play volleyball awhile back. I had a bike, rode it every day. Got ripped off. Tango, yeah, well, I used to dance a long time ago. I’m game to try anything and I love Latin music. And Carlos.” Her laugh boomed in the small space and a few people looked her way.
The couple hustled out the door, Sadie waving like they were old friends, saying they’d be back.
Baron chuckled as he stepped back on the floor. “He might be a natural.What a couple of characters!”
Janelle threw him a sideways glance. Her husband: six feet three, a balding redhead, brown eyes that could scald or light her up depending on his mood. He never took off the long necklace with crystal and jade pendants. He denied being superstitious but she knew better.
Of course, she was not a flawless fifty. A bit soft, okay rounder than she’d planned. But she had thick, long, silvery hair; it saved Janelle from despair some days. Ridiculous. But every morning after the mirror check she said aloud, “I’m still a dancer and a better teacher.”
“I bet the woman can dance,” Janelle confided in Baron that night as they closed up. “And that Carlos may be a natural.”
“In the end it doesn’t matter, darling girl. Two more students! We’ll make a decent profit this session.”
He rapped the scarred wooden desk top three times.
The next week the couple turned up. Carlos seemed embarrassed and Sadie did not when they bungled their first steps. They took a sail around the room to loosen up more despite Janelle and Baron’s frowns. The group appeared more relaxed with the breezy twosome there. Baron noted it felt less like pulling teeth to get them to commit to the steps.
“Look,” Sadie told everyone, “just act like you know what you’re doing and mirror our teachers’ movements–they’re perfect!”
Carlos held her tightly. They were stiff in each other’s arms. Then tango music crescendoed, intense rhythms shaking up melody, Sadie’s laugh punctuating their goofs.
The room felt good, the atmosphere livelier.
“See?” Janelle whispered. “Though they could be a little more serious.”
He nodded slowly, eyes on the new couple.
There were twelve total on the floor. The ones who improved were those who let down their guard a bit. It wasn’t just feet, arms and head placements. The tango was a passionate dance, a lover’s dance, and relayed what words couldn’t begin to say. Some people were too scared to welcome that sort of power. Others would find their way. And some, like Carlos and Sadie, got in the thick of it because they wanted to be right there.
The second class was a success; everyone learned what they were supposed to, on time. The group began to jell. The third class demanded more, putting more complicated steps together quickly. Confidence was required.
Sadie leaned into Carlos as they veered away to the group’s edge. She’d worn a floral skirt and scuffed red dance shoes and when he guided her she responded with the trust needed to move in concert. They executed more difficult moves, moved instinctively. They were engrossed, enchanted–by the music’s heat, the challenge of the dance, each other.
Baron and Janelle watched in surprise. They’d been practicing. They had, it seemed, real promise. Everyone stole admiring glances at them. Sadie and Carlos were beautiful to behold; their electric presence brought back Janelle’s and Baron’s past, when they were young, fresh, excited by the grand emotion of it all.
“I love those kids,” Baron told her as they watched the floor and the students. “Carlos and Sadie have the spirit. How can you teach the essence of tango? I know we didn’t teach that in three classes.”
“No, but we still get to show them the way. Look at them glow.”
She said it with such reverence that Baron slipped an arm around her waist. He absently touched the necklace. He wondered over the new couple.
“They’ve got something besides talent, Janelle. They know something, a secret that makes them good so fast.”
She shook her head but the way he said it, his hand on those darned pendants–she knew what he meant. She shivered a little and followed their moves. Turning in the light and shadow, their bodies in sync, their profound silence infused with something Janelle couldn’t name. When the song drew to a close, all the students clapped for each other. They were so pleased to have taken this class. And they had two stars in the making right before them. They were drawn to Sadie and Carlos–the first pink-faced and panting, the second animated and shiny with sweat–like bees to clover. They lingered awhile, chatting until Janelle and her husband had to lock up.
When the students trailed out, the two teachers sat and looked at each other. They were having success. Happiness coursed through them like a veritable transfusion. Janelle got up and settled on her husband’s knees. He closed his arms around her.
The fourth week came and they waited and waited for Sadie and Carlos to come through the door. The students took their places. The tango music swelled; work got underway. Janelle looked at the clock, at the door. Baron called the commands, adjusted a few couples’ positions and threw her a glance, fingering the pendants. Everyone seemed stiffer than usual, not quite on task. They missed their inspiration, waited for the golden couple.
“It has to be another appointment or the flu. Or maybe they ran out of money and just didn’t want to tell us.”
“No,” Baron said. “Tango meant too much already. They should be here.”
The fifth week, no show, no call. Janelle tried Sadie’s number but no answer. The sixth week everyone took their places without a word; if the other two showed, good and if not, well, a mystery. Janelle was on the phone–there had been so much interest lately–when Carlos walked in. The room erupted in cheerful greetings until they saw he was unshaven, hair a mess, and eyes dull. The group gathered around him, hands to chests.
“What, Carlos?” Janelle put her hand on his arm.
“Sadie has a weak heart. Can you imagine her with a bum ticker? Yeah, I knew. And she had more and more trouble breathing.” His eyes filled. “Had to have surgery. She’s not so great.”
It was clear he didn’t know when or even if she’d get back. But she was home. Their shock and sympathy were a soft murmur.
“We’ll go see her, okay, Carlos?” Baron spoke with firmness. He grabbed the tango CD from the player and got his jacket.
Janelle got her coat and one by one they all prepared to follow. When they trooped upstairs and the neighbor who’d been staying with her left, they squeezed into the bedroom where she lay, eyes suddenly wide. It was a little strange, being in this intimate space with someone who had seemed far different. Her presence had been so big at the studio. Now, she looked very small.
The new friends shared encouragement in near-whispers. Sadie listened and an easy smile usurped her frailness, while her eyes tried to hide fear, pain, grief. She seemed nearly transparent. So young to be lying there. Such an ill-begotten and terribly unwanted thing possessed her. But she held out her hands to them in thanks.
And then the music started. She heard the tango boldly wending its way into her room with its smooth, sly beauty, sensual and bittersweet, wrapping her in vivid life. She closed her eyes and she was dancing, feet strong and body lithe as she pulled it into her faulty heart. Carlos was there showing her the way. Her spirit leapt. There were lights like stars and a broad swath of velvety blue and she danced right to the moon. It was what she’d needed.
Carlos sat on her bed to make certain her chest rose up and down and he felt the music seep into her marrow and his. The crowd filed out of the bedroom like a collective sigh.
Baron and Janelle called out to the two left behind.
“See you both sooner than you think!”
“We’ll pray for speedy healing and more dance!”
The music played on. Carlos lay beside her and stroked her face. She breathed his tenderness and they fell asleep, tango taking them away.