It is 7:20 p.m., time for the last train from South Station to the western suburbs of Boston. My point of embarcation, a once-proud civic landmark, is despite its grandiose re-christening as the Michael S. Dukakis Transportation Center, a scene of degraded desolation. Over there, a homeless man mumbles to himself. Here, a familiar street person approaches me to compliment me on my suit–a boxy chalk-striped number. “You lookin’ sharp, guv’nor–nothing like charcoal grey,” he says. I wonder where he acquired his unerring sense of style as I give him my usual lagniappe, a single dollar bill.
The train is not here, but I know it has not departed or even arrived yet as I recognize familiar faces from my back-and-forth commute; the money manager whom I once recognized on vacation in Florida, his wife hectoring him because she’s “not really an outdoors person”; the woman who wheezes like a pigeon on the morning train; the bore who talks of nothing but golf, his face transported as if this mundane pastime is a cult of divine madness. “I taped the Masters and I’m going to watch it again this weekend,” he says to an acquaintance who appears to tolerate him, perhaps from a desire to do business. “I’m not sure I caught the rhythm of the final round.” I’ll tell you what the rhythm was, pal; 4/4, at a largo tempo.
And then I see her. A tall–taller than me–dark-haired woman, with an aloof expression. I’ve noticed her before, and I know that she has no ring on the third finger of her left hand; she has a daughter, however, who sometimes greets her at the suburban station where I catch my train. A divorcee, no doubt, but not a gay one; she is world-weary, bitter. Life has not been kind to her, but still–she is beautiful with a tragic I-coulda-had-a-V8 air of regret, missed chances, lost opportunities about her.
Quebrada Bakery, Wellesley, Mass.: To have coffee here is to live dangerously.
I know that she is a bad woman. I have seen her leave her car all day at Quebrada, the shop where I get my coffee every morning, even though the parking is limited to one hour, for customers only! She works out at my health club, and I have seen her take calls in areas that are not designated for cell phone use. On a number of occasions she has spread her purse, her briefcase and shopping bags out on a train seat designed for three passengers without a trace of shame. She is–I know it–the woman who could complete me.
Because it is late, we cannot avoid each other’s eyes the way we usually do as members of a floating mass of sullen commuters, each intent upon the pedestrian tasks that lay ahead in the morning, or withdrawn, the miserable day behind them at night. I gaze into her eyes. She sees, but does not acknowledge me. I move closer.
The essence of the Apache dance is to balance the savagery of early twentieth-century Parisian street urchins with the aplomb of a prima ballerina. We–if she accepts my unspoken invitation–will join in a danse dangereux that can result in injury, even death–as we throw each other into the little red chairs and tables that surround Au Bon Pain, the “fast casual” bakery and cafe chain whose illegal alien baristas dream of some day working at Starbucks, where they will be surrounded by “world” music that drove them batty on AM radio in their native countries.
She lowers her eyelids–I take this as a silent command to commence. I take her right hand in my left, clasp her around the waist, and begin.
We dance in a circle at first, affected expressions of contempt and indifference on our faces. We who live by our wits, knowledge workers sending pdf documents by attachment! What do ordinary mortals understand of our lives, and yet these tasks–they are so advanced, so fraught with danger if we get an email address wrong!
The apache dance traditionally takes the form of a highly-stylized argument between a pimp and his prostitute, but–taking our cue from wacked-out poet and Mussolini admirer Ezra Pound–we transform the genre into something entirely new.
I spin my partner into a glass bakery shelf stuffed with croissants, brioches and cloches, the last-named items apparently stocked in error as a result of a typo in a purchase order. “Do you want me to wear a croissant,” my unknown companion says, spitting the words at me with barely-repressed fury, “or would you like to eat my cloche?”
“Yes I think I’d like that,” I say, a malicious sneer forming on my lips.
“Would you like a napkin to wipe the sneer off your face?” the trainee at the counter asks innocently. She cannot imagine the wild torrents of passion that consume us, she who naively suggests that I might like the “Manager’s Special” every morning when all I want is a large mocha, no whipped.
“Non, mon petite armoire,” I say, lapsing into the high school French that I perfected to the level of a B+. “It is better that you laissez nous tranquille, s’il vous plait.”
“We don’t have the s’il vous plait anymore,” she says. “They substituted a chicken Caesar wrap and cup of soup for it.”
She speaks but we do not hear. I am whirling my unknown paramour towards the McDonald’s, which has recently returned coffee-flavored milk shakes to its menu.
I can tell that I have exhausted my lover. She leans back on the counter, her pupils rolling back into her eyelids, her hair matted from perspiration. She is no longer une guerriere–a warrior. She has succumbed at last to the superior force of my masculinity.
“Can I help who’s next?” the woman at the counter with the thick glasses says.
“I’m next,” my lover says, looking backwards up into the brightly-colored menu over head. “I’ll have two crispy chicken Snack Wraps and a medium Diet Coke.”
“You want honey mustard, ranch or chipotle barbecue sauce on that?”
“Chip-O-tul,” she says, incorrectly. “I want something . . . hot.”
“It’s chee-POHT-lay,” I say, as gently as I can, reaching for my wallet, and then to the woman behind the counter, “Make it snappy–we’ve got a train to catch.”
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection Boston Baroques.