Love on a tray

(“…Has vuelto, dulce bien...”) ¹

Short story by Ramiro Gigliotti, published in the Argentine magazine Tangauta 189, June 2010.


“God damn, that gringa can dance!” was Sanabria’s unfortunate comment as he passed in front of us on the way back to his table. The bitter drop that caused an already loaded glass to overflow: beautiful, foreign and on top of it she knew how to dance. Just one of these three qualities in itself merited the antipathy of the two good and proper milongueras that are my friend and this reporter; but all of them together was too much.

She arrived quietly and chose a place at the bar; my friend and I saw it very clearly. An attractive woman, indeed; the mysterious type, it’s true, but she wasn´t exactly Rita Hayworth. She wore a pleated, highly elegant skirt, with a cut that would have made any one of us look like a fool, and a divine pair of shoes that – unbearable fact – were not from any of the tango shoe sellers around. She only had to take off her coat and we knew the rest of the night would revolve around her.

She ordered a glass of champagne and dedicated herself to looking apathetically and sluggishly at the dance floor. More or less obviously the men around became impatient; with more or less resistance the women too. A few handsome fellows went to invite her to dance, but changed their minds at the last moment, feeling inhibited. My friend and I saw it all very clearly.

A moment later, when she had already been flattening her skirt for more than half an hour, Sanabría made a go for it and curiosity immediately invaded the entire milonga. She danced tersely and inflexibly and the old man, who was conscious of being watched, excelled himself with the best of his repertoire. The foreign lady didn´t dance badly, for sure. But nor was she Maya Plisetskaya… When the tanda finished she went back to the bar and continued watching, somehow distant and ethereal, almost bored, the drab milonga scene.

That was when the ridiculous Sanabría dropped his orotund comment “God damn, that gringa can dance!” as he passed in front of us. And just then, as my friend and I were about to blow, El Exquisito arrived. She smiled inwardly. I saw it. She smiled and the twisted hatred with its bad smell that had invaded my friend and me turned into the most insane killer instinct. Sanabría did not really bother us; but El Exquisito did.

A quick look around revealed that we were not the only ones to be outraged: clenched teeth, furrowed brows and dark looks everywhere. My friend and I had to control each other in order to avoid making fools of ourselves.

El Exquisito walked around a bit, trying in vain to make himself invisible and eventually settled at the bar, next to her. Everybody saw it. What’s more, it was obvious that they had an arrangement. The foreigner, all of a sudden, carried a sympathetic and lively expression on her face. He, on the other hand, seemed to be somehow uncomfortable. My friend and I saw it clearly.

Only when Di Sarli came on did they get up to dance. They walked to the floor accompanied by the lecherous, primal envy of the male fauna and the sharp indifference of the female audience. The air seemed to be frozen. They embraced each other tenderly, sighed briefly and danced the most beautiful tanda I have ever seen in my life. Although, let’s be honest, they weren’t exactly Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

As they made their way back to the bar a waitress unfortunately lost control of her tray: two glasses of red wine, a coffee, three empanadas and a diet soda spilled all over the spotless elegance of the cheerful couple.

In the course of the night there were quite a few who approached to congratulate the waitress. My friend and I saw it clearly.


1 From the Tango “Gime el cielo”, music by Atilio Bruni, lyrics by Osvaldo Rubens, meaning ”You came back, sweatheart”.