War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

New Year's

M,

I forgot to tell you. New Year’s. our gig at Los Gitanos. little restaurant, 20 seats. some Spanish guy named Xavier’s hobby. keeps him busy while his wife’s out of town making real money.

men’s dinner. it started like all good Spanish parties do. 2 a.m. (after all the wives, the girlfriends had gone home). and it was the real thing—four hours of tortilla, gambas al ajillo, caldo galego, paella. the guy even had Santiago de Compostela cake. and lots of Rioja. 1996. a good year. oh ya, and us. flamencos. todos.

C and G and me. two guitarists. a couple of palmeras. a cantaor from Vancouver. we did a fiesta set. sevillanas. fandangos. bulerias. tangos. all the fun stuff. lots of flash and leg and footwork. “tits and teeth,” G whispered, just before we went on. our job to look, sound gorgeous. we did. G in her hot red with black roses (the one you always drool over). me in absinthe. a purple rose in my hair. C, simple black. no ruffles. just her beautiful body. her sad blue eyes. her red hair tied back. austere. amazing as her scarlet underskirt.

and the guys loved us. of course they would. twenty dollar tips in flamenco shoes. and we loved it too. we were so on. our compas, the palmas, the guitarists, the singer. like we had tapped into some holy song.

then second set. sometime around half-past-three, C said she wanted to do a siguiriya. dark. haunted. cante jondo. and we all looked at each other and said, “why not?” because it was New Year’s Eve and we’d caught the audience in the palm of our hand like a wild, hungry bird.

so little G, the guitarist starts in. big open chords. the five beat heart. the palmeros clap

/ . / . / . . / . . /.

little G descends the fat chords down the steps to lament. the cantaor begins his ayee ayee aye, sets the stage. sings his first letra

Cuando yo me meura When I die
te pido un encargo: I ask you a favour:
que con las trenzas de tu pelo negro bind my hands together
me amarres mis manos in the locks of your long black hair.

C walks in slowly. high heel left right left. the single spotlight we hung, haloing her. head bent. eyes half shut. no sound in the room but clink of glass, gurgle of wine bottle emptying, a few knowledgeable, “olés, assa assa chica.” C marks the compas with silver-nailed shoes, a gesture, an open arm, hits the accents with a turn, a remate. perfectly placed.

cantaor sings his second letra

Ar campito solo I go alone into the fields
me boy a yorá Go there to weep
como tengo yena e penas I seek my solitude
el arma Since my heart is so heavy
busca soléa With pain

C dances slowly. her body a reed slowly, slowly singing the wind of sorrow. all the sorrows of her life. all the sorrows of all our lives. every birth and every death. of parents, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers. every death of land and ocean and creature. every famine. every war. every death of every hope we’d ever had or ever will have.

she marks the compas, dances his words carefully until the cantaor finishes his lament, then C starts slowly into her escobilla. her feet gradually getting faster and faster. the room breathing with her. sweat pouring down her face, her footwork treading the high altar of contratiempo, that place where when it doesn’t work, is pure hell, but when it does, is pure heaven. she’s on tonight. hitting dead centre between the beats. hypnotic. duende puro more than she’s ever been. she is a wild black swallow moving us from hopelessness to absolution as she takes us through a seco —just her and the cahone one of the palmeras plays—until fast footwork, flash of scarlet under skirt, her black fishnets, her black shoes beating death down into the floor once and for all, a final break of turns, footwork, C, the guitarists, the palmas, all of us one great breath of life. and then it’s over. C frozen centrestage, one arm above her head, her tall body stretched and curved. total silence, then applause. the room standing. all of us shouting “olé” and C softening, relaxing, wiping sweat from her face and big G starts a bulerias and it’s my turn to go on. lighten things up.

the door opens and in walks J with two other guys. they’re drunk but happy. they grab a table, Xavier pours them another drink. J jaloes me. “toma que toma, guapa“ and I laugh, give him a cheeky wink, dust off my bulerias, exit and G takes over. the set goes great. J introduces me and the girls to his buddies. “this is Sgt. T, from 2RCR, and this is Warrant Officer S, newly-minted at Christmas. he’s from my Battalion out east. served with me in Afghanistan.” we sit down, have a drink with them. they’re pissed. we laugh. then C says, “time to go home. I’ve got my little girl waiting and my babysitter wants to leave first thing in the morning.”

“you can’t leave,” says the young Warrant to C, “let me drive you. or do you want to get a hotel?”

C laughs, “cut it out, I’m old enough to be your mother.”

“who cares? you’re hot!”

“nice set of beer goggles you’ve got on Warrant. what are you 32? I’m 46. do the math,” she reaches for her wrap.

“you’re hot. I saw you dance. I was outside looking in. let me give you a ride.”

“gotta go Warrant. thanks anyways. see you girls, say goodbye to the others for me.”

“now look what you’ve done,” the young guy says, stands up, leans like the Tower of Pisa, “now I’m going to have to have sex with him tonight,” and he points to the Sgt., “unless you want a threesome”

at which point J grabs the WO by the sleeve and says, “that’s enough Warrant, settle down. let’s get some fresh air. sorry m’am,” he says to C, drags his buddy to the door.

“listen J,” C whispers in J’s ear, “this guy served two years ago, the year of the heavy load, and he’s heading out again in six months. I take no offence. what you guys have seen and done. I can’t imagine. who knows if he’ll even be alive this time next year. let him have his fun.”

so C grabs her purse, kisses us on the cheek three times. moves towards the door. stops at the young Warrant, kisses him dead centre on the lips. “Happy New Year Warrant,” heads out the door, “it’s been years Warrant, it’s been years. you’ve just made mine” closed the door tight.

the rest of us danced and drank what was left of the night. at daybreak, Xavier made us chocolate and churros, then too restless for anything else and wanting to see some familiar faces, I stopped by and drank early morning coffee at my office, the torn green couch (circa 1976, the kind moms covered in plastic, saved only for company) at caffé fantastico, while the rest of them headed home to sleep.

S

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Welcome to MayDay

MayDay is a series of letters in prose, poem, txt, email, of a young woman to her infantryman lover serving in Afghanistan.

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