Other mysteries of the extravagant hotel were not so simple for Ana Magdalena Bach. When she lit a cigarette, it set off a system of alarm bells and lights, and an authoritative voice told her that she was in a non- smokers' room, the only one available on this holiday night.
She had to ask for help to learn that the same card with which she opened the door, turned on the lights, the television, the air conditioning, and the background music. They showed her how to type on the electronic keys of the rounded bathtub to control the erotic and clinical settings on the jacuzzi.
Her curiosity was driving her crazy so she took off her clothes, which were soaked with perspiration because of the sun at the cemetery, she put on the bathing cap to protect her hair, and surrendered herself to the whirlpool of bubbles. Feeling euphoric, she made a long distance phone call to her house and cried out to her husband,
—You cannot imagine how badly I miss you!
Her passion was so vivid that her husband felt the excitement of the jacuzzi over the phone:
—God damn it —he said—. You owe me for this!
She had thought about ordering something to eat through room service but the service charge made her decide to eat in the cafeteria like a poor person. Her black satin dress, tubular and unfashionably long, went well with her hair.
She didn't know what to do about the neckline, but the necklace, the earrings, and the rings with the costume emeralds lifted her spirits and increased the brightness in her eyes.
It was eight o'clock when she when downstairs for dinner. She finished eating quickly. Worn out by the crying of the children and the strident music, she decided to return to her room and read The Day of the Triffids by Ray Bradbury [Gabo is incorrect, the author of the novel is John Wyndham], which she had had on her to-read list for more than three months.
The haven of the corridor restored her spirits and when she passed by the cabaret, the technical perfection of a pair of professional dancers moving to the music of "The Emperor's Waltz" caught her attention.
She remained by the door, absorbed by the performance until it ended and the regular clients of the hotel took over the dance floor. A sweet, manly voice right behind her back startled her out of her reverie:
—Shall we dance?
They were very near one another. She could detect the tenuous odor of his shyness right beneath the smell of his aftershave lotion. Then she looked at him over her shoulder and found herself breathless.
—I'm sorry —she said, disoriented—, but I'm not dressed for dancing.
The response was immediate:
—It's you who adorns the dress.
Then she looked over her shoulder again, this time not to acknowledge him but rather to overpower him with the most beautiful eyes he would ever see.
You are very kind —she said with charm—. These days, few men say those things.
Then, he moved to her side and reiterated his invitation to dance. Ana Magdalena Bach, alone and free on her island, grabbed his hand with all the force in her soul as if she were at the edge of a cliff.
The sentence had impressed her. With an unconscious gesture, she checked herself out: her breasts unblemished, her arms bare, her hips firm, until she had confirmed that her body was actually where she felt it was.
They danced three waltzes the old fashioned way. She suspected from the first steps, because of his facile mastery, that he was another professional hired by the hotel to enliven the evenings and she allowed herself to be led in exhilarating circles. But kept him at arms' distance.
He said, looking into her eyes, —You dance like an artist.
She knew this was true but she also knew that he probably said this to every woman he wanted to bed.
In the second waltz, he attempted to press her against his body and she kept him in his place. He worked very hard at his art, holding her by the waist with the tips of his fingers as if she were a flower. By the middle of the third waltz she knew him as if she had known him forever.
Never had she conceived of a man so old fashioned in such an attractive package. He had pale skin, burning eyes beneath bushy eyebrows, jet black hair plastered down with hair gel and perfectly parted in the middle. The tropical sports jacket of raw silk tightly tailored to his narrow hips completed the picture of a dandy. Everything about him was as artificial as his manners, but his feverish eyes seemed to yearn for compassion.
After a series of waltzes, he led her to a secluded table without advance notice or permission. It wasn't necessary: she anticipated everything and was delighted when he ordered champagne. The room in its semi-darkness was pleasant to experience and each table had its own intimate ambience.
Ana Magdalena estimated that her companion was no older than thirty because he couldn't manage the bolero. She guided him through it with serene discretion until he learned the step. She kept him at a distance to avoid giving him the pleasure of feeling the blood in her veins which was impassioned by the champagne. But he forced the issue, first with gentleness, and then with all the strength of his arm around her waist.
Then she felt on her thigh what he had wanted her to feel in order to mark his territory and she cursed herself for the throbbing of the blood in her veins and the heat of her breath. But she was sober enough to reject a second bottle of champagne. He probably understood this since he invited her for a walk on the beach. She concealed her annoyance behind a compassionate frivolity.
—Do you know how old I am?
—I can't imagine that you have an age—except for the age that you desire.
No sooner had he said this when she, tired of so much deception, confronted her body with the onerous dilemma: it was now or never:
—I'm sorry —she said, standing up.
He was startled.
—What's going on?
—I have to go. Champagne is not my forte.
He offered other innocent proposals without realizing perhaps that when a woman leaves, there's no power, human or divine, than can detain her.
Finally, he gave up. —May I accompany you?
—Don't trouble yourself —she said—. And thank you for an unforgettable evening.
In the elevator, she already regretted her decision. She felt a a ferocious rancor toward herself, but the compensation was that she had done what she needed to do. She entered her room, took off her shoes, flopped onto the bed face up, and lit a cigarette. Almost immediately, the doorbell rang and she cursed the hotel where the law could stalk a guest and even violate her sacred privacy.
But it wasn't the law: it was him. He looked like a figure from a wax museum in the dimness of the hallway. She corroborated that it was him with her hand on the door knob, without a hint of indulgence, and finally let him in. He entered the room as if he were home.
—Offer me something —he said.
—Help yourself —she said—. I have no idea how this space ship works.
In contrast, he knew everything. He adjusted the lights, turned on the background music, and poured two glasses of champagne from the mini- bar with the mastery of a director of the orchestra. She joined the game— not as herself but as an actress playing her role. They were making a toast when the telephone rang. A security officer from the hotel advised her in an amiable manner that no guest could stay in a suite after midnight without registering at the reception desk.
—Please, you don't need to explain it to me —she interrupted, mortified—. I'm sorry.
She hung up the phone with her face flushed by embarrassment.
As if he had heard the warning, he explained it to her in simple terms:
And without much ado, he invited her to watch a total eclipse of the moon from the beach.
This was news to her. She had a childish passion for eclipses but for the entire night she had been navigating between propriety and temptation. However, she could find no valid argument for not accepting the invitation.
—There's no escape —he said—. It's our destiny.
The invocation of the supernatural assuaged her reservations. So, they went off to see the eclipse. They traveled in his van to a bay hidden in a forest of coconut palms with no trace of tourists. In the horizon, one could see the remote glow of the city. The sky was diaphanous with a moon that was lonely and sad.
He parked in the shelter of the palm trees, took off his shoes, loosened his belt, and lowered the seat to relax. She discovered that the van only had two front seats, which converted into beds with the touch of a button. The rest of the van consisted of a small bar, a stereo system that was emitting the sounds of the saxophone of Fausto Papetti, and a small bathroom with a portable bidet behind a crimson curtain.
She understood the situation.
There will be no eclipse —she said—. It can only happen with a full moon and we're under a waxing quarter moon.
He was imperturbable.
—In that case, there will be a sunrise —he said—. We have time.
There were no more formalities. Both now knew where things were going.
She knew it was the only thing she could have expected from him since they danced the first bolero.
She was amazed how he undressed her piece by piece—almost thread by thread—with the mastery of a carnival magician, using just the tips of his fingers and hardly touching her, as if he were peeling an onion.
With the first onslaught of the Minotaur, she felt herself die from the pain and felt the terrible humiliation of a dismembered chicken. She found herself without breath and soaked in an icy sweat but resorted to her primal instincts in order not to feel any thing less—not to allow herself to feel anything less, than what he felt; and the two of them surrendered to the inconceivable pleasure of brute force subjugated to tenderness.
Ana Magdalena never worried about finding out who he was—she didn't even try, until three years after that unforgettable night when she recognized his image on her television screen accompanied by a news story about a melancholy vampire, sought by every policeman in the Caribbean for being a con artist and a pimp who preyed on cheerful, lonely widows and probably murdered two of them.